Denny Hamlin’s team hit with big penalties after Brickyard infraction

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After Denny Hamlin finished third in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, NASCAR found some issues with several of the rear firewall block-off plates on Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

The plates are meant to keep fluids, smoke, and fire from entering the driver’s compartment but if airflow is provided through the plates, it can help the car’s aerodynamics.

Two days later, NASCAR has dropped the hammer on the 11 crew for the post-race infraction, which goes under a P5 penalty in the 2014 NASCAR rule book. The P5 penalty covers:

Approved parts that fail or are improperly installed to fail in their intended use of great importance (e.g.; rear wheel well panels that fail and allow air evacuation in the trunk area; oil box cover that fails and allows air evacuation in the driver compartment; shifter boot cover that fails and allows air evacuation through the floor pan).

Per Section 12-4.5B of the rule book, the minimum P5 penalty includes: A loss of 50 driver and owner’s championship points; a fine of $75,000-$125,000; a six-race suspension; and probation through the end of the calendar year for all suspended members, or for a six-month period following the issuance of the penalty if the period goes across two consecutive seasons.

However, since the No. 11’s infraction was found in post-race inspection, the P5 penalty tacks on an additional docking of 25 driver and owner’s championship points and an additional $50,000 fine.

With all of that said, here’s the damage.

Hamlin’s crew chief, Darian Grubb, has been suspended for the next six Sprint Cup races as well as fined a total of $125,000 ($75,000 under the original P5 penalty plus an extra $50,000 post-race fine). In addition, Hamlin’s car chief, Wesley Sherrill, has also been suspended for the next six Cup races.

NASCAR has also docked both Hamlin and team owner J.D. Gibbs 75 driver and owner’s championship points respectively (50 under the original P5 penalty plus an additional 25 post-race points).

The infraction violates multiple sections of the NASCAR rule book. In addition to the usual “actions detrimental to stock car racing” in Section 12-1, violations include:

Section 20-2.1 – Car body must be acceptable to NASCAR officials and meet the following requirements:

  • K – Any device or ductwork that permits air to pass from one area of the interior of the car to another, or to the outside of the car, will not be permitted. This includes, but is not limited to, the inside of the car to the trunk area, or the floors, firewalls, crush panels and wheel wells passing air into or out of the car;
  • L – All seams of the interior sheet metal and all interior sheet metal to exterior sheet metal contact point must be sealed and caulked. This includes, but is not limited to, floors, firewalls, wheel wells, package trays, crush panels and any removable covers;

20-3.4 – All references to the inspection surface in sub-section 20-3.4 have been determined with the front lower edge of both main frame rails set at six inches and the rear lower edge of both main frame rails set at eight inches. For driver protection, all firewalls, floors, tunnels, and access panels must be installed and completely secured in place when the car is in competition;

20-3.4.5 – A rear firewall, including any removable panels or access doors, constructed using magnetic sheet steel a minimum of 22 gage (0.031 inch thick), must be located between the trunk area and the driver’s compartment and must be welded in place. Block-off plates/covers used in rear firewalls in place of blowers, oil coolers, etc., must be constructed of 22 gage (0.031 inch thick) magnetic sheet steel. Block-off plates/covers must be installed with positive fasteners and sealed to prevent air leakage. Carbon fiber or aluminum block-off plates/covers will not be permitted.

As a result of the 75-point docking, Hamlin now slips from 11th to 21st in the Sprint Cup standings. However, he is still in position to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup thanks to his spring win at Talladega.

In a statement released this afternoon, JGR said it would appeal the Brickyard penalties but that both Grubb and Sherrill will begin serving their suspensions starting with this weekend’s GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”