France: Not NASCAR’s job to penalize often, and certainly not in legal arena

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One of the topics NASCAR Chairman Brian France addressed Tuesday night during his annual “state of the union” interview on Motor Racing Network’s NASCAR Live was penalties, how they are assessed and where they are assessed.

A year ago the new penalty level system came into being; several penalties were doled out in the wake of the post-race fisticuffs at both Charlotte Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

France said it is not NASCAR’s place to penalize its drivers if a separate legal situation is ongoing. This was tested earlier this year in the face of the Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy in New York, and more recently as Kurt Busch is in the midst of an investigation – now closed and headed to an attorney general – for alleged domestic assault.

“We will have a very strong, bright line, and if that’s crossed we’ll be very aggressive in dealing with it,” France told MRN’s Eli Gold. “We have Kurt Busch going through his own allegations at this point – no charges – and some other things, and we will watch that carefully as an example.

“What we wouldn’t do is try to get out in front of a set of facts that haven’t been determined yet by the court system. Society has a way of evolving with important topics like domestic violence. That is dealt with much more severely, and rightfully so.”

Where France said NASCAR would – and has – drawn the line on penalties is when it comes to criticisms of the racing product by the personnel involved in the series. Denny Hamlin, notably, fell afoul of this in early 2013.

“We try to give the most latitude of any sport in terms of what our drivers or other participants say,” France explained.

“Where we take objection is when there is, even is, and most of the time this is inadvertent, but every once in a while there are comments derogatory towards the racing product. When that happens, we have to draw a line.

“We can’t have our most important stakeholders, drivers, teams and tracks, working against putting the best steak on the plate we can – that’s where we draw the line.”

These issues and a handful of others – including what were more or less dismissals of mid-week races or a Chase road race – were discussed during Tuesday night’s appearance.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.