NASCAR penalties: Biggest fines in stock car racing history

Given the restrictive nature of the ethos of ‘stock’ car racing, which originally was aimed at taking cars straight out of the showroom and on to the racetrack, crew chiefs and mechanics have toiled to find ever more ingenious ways of making their cars run faster.

The penalty handed out to Team Penske’s Joey Logano, fined $10,000 for wearing webbed gloves to restrict air coming into his cockpit and thereby reduce drag during qualifying in Atlanta, is a perfect example of discovering enterprising solutions that have a material impact (quite literally in this case!).

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Who was the first driver in NASCAR to be penalized?

We can go back to NASCAR’s very first ‘strictly stock’ race in 1949, held over 150 miles on a ¾-mile dirt track in Charlotte, North Carolina for a first instance of cheating. Glenn Dunaway won the race, finishing three laps ahead of Jim Roper, in Herbert Westmoreland’s 1947 Ford. 

But the car, which had been a genuine moonshine-runner, was found to be running illegal rear springs and he was thrown to the bottom of the results.

A lawsuit then followed, which was thrown out of court, which allowed NASCAR founder Bill France Sr to be emboldened in handing out penalties.

The early days of NASCAR stock cars

The early days of NASCAR stock cars

Photo by: NASCAR Media

Fast forward to the modern era, and the introduction of the Next Gen car in the 2022 season: NASCAR updated its penalty system to include much harsher consequences for violations – including the revoking of playoff eligibility – with respect to modifying parts from single-source suppliers.

Much of the construction of the Next Gen car revolves around single-source supplied parts, greatly reducing or eliminating the need of individual teams to spend money developing and producing their own.

And while this didn’t stop teams from pushing those boundaries, it’s turned into quite a costly exercise to find out what they can get away with… And that includes the sport’s biggest teams.

The biggest fine in NASCAR history: Half a million dollars

In March 2023, NASCAR issued penalties to five Cup Series teams – all four Hendrick Motorsports cars and one from Kaulig Racing – for the unapproved modification of a single-source part, namely the hood louvers.

The Level 2 transgression was, per NASCAR’s rulebook, “A Radiator Duct Note: Unapproved modification of a single source vendor supplied part (hood louvers).”

Hood louvers are vents in the hood on each manufacturer’s car that serve as a release point for ducts that transfer air out of the radiator.

Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, Ally Chevrolet Camaro

Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, Ally Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

The use of vents prevents the need for teams to tape up the front grille of car, which had been used extensively as a performance adjustment tool in the previous iteration of race car.

The No. 5 team of Kyle Larson, the No. 24 of William Byron, the No. 48 of Alex Bowman – all Hendrick – and the No. 31 of Justin Haley (Kaulig) were all penalized 100 driver points, 100 owner points and 10 playoff points.

The No. 9 of Chase Elliott, also from HMS, was docked 100 owner points and 10 playoff points – but no driver points since Elliott was not driving the car at the time while recovering from injury.

But the headline news, financially, was that all five crew chiefs of the respective drivers were fined $100,000 (paid by the teams) and suspended for four races each.

The teams appealed against the decision.

What happened next at the appeal?

A three-member National Motorsports Appeals Panel then reduced part of the severe penalties that NASCAR had issued.

The panel rescinded the 100 owner and 10 playoff points assessed to each team and the 100 driver points assessed to drivers Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron, but retained the $400,000 in fines and four-race suspensions to each of the four crew chiefs – Cliff Daniels, Rudy Fugle, Alan Gustafson and Blake Harris.

Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing, Cirkul Chevrolet Camaro

Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing, Cirkul Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

In Kaulig’s case, however, they were mostly upheld by the appeals panel; they only reduced the point penalty from 100pts to 75pts. Kaulig then turned to NASCAR’s Final Appeals Officer Bill Mullis, who rescinded the points penalties “in the interest of fairness and consistency”.

But, as in the Hendrick case, its $100,000 fine remained.

NASCAR then updated the appeals process, making it no longer possible for sanctions to be lessened on appeal unless the parties were exonerated.

Penalties can only be erased if the panel finds a team to not have violated any rules.

Did the teams involved learn their lesson?

A month later, after a race at Richmond, The No. 24 and No. 48 Hendrick teams were each found to be in breach of the rules once again – this time they were found to have made illegal modifications to the greenhouse of both cars.

Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, Ally Chevrolet Camaro

Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, Ally Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

They were penalized by 60 driver and owner points, as well as five playoff points. Interim crew chiefs Brian Campe and Greg Ives – who were subbing for the excluded ones! – were suspended for the next two races and each fined $75,000 as well.

That took HMS’s fines across those two races up to $550,000.

What was the biggest single fine in NASCAR history?

While the fines levied at Hendrick and Kaulig after Phoenix added up to half a million dollars, the biggest single fine by NASCAR occurred in May 2023, when it announced its first-ever L3-level penalty against Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 team after it found counterfeit parts on the Next Gen car.

It is the first (and thus-far only) L3 penalty issued during the Next Gen era and one of the largest penalties in NASCAR history.

NASCAR cited the following sections of the rulebook when issuing the penalties: “Sections 14.1.C&F: Overall Assembled Vehicle Rules; 14.6.A: Underwing; 14.6.3.B: Engine Panel.”

Watch: Elton Sawyer explains No. 14 team’s L3 penalty

The result was the loss of 120 driver and owner points, as well as 25 playoff points.

Crew chief John Klausmeier was fined $250,000 and suspended for six points-paying races.

The team blamed “a quality control lapse” and did not appeal.

At the following round, NASCAR displayed the counterfeit duct, which sits at the bottom of the car under the engine panel to help move heat out of the engine compartment and is 3D-printed at the R&D Center and sold and installed for each team by Fibreworks Composites.

NASCAR explained that the textures of the part they impounded were “clearly” different.

Does NASCAR ever disqualify cars after a race?

Disqualification of cars after a race by NASCAR has been rare and it was only written into the rulebook in 2022, as the sanctioning body is keen that fans who’ve paid to watch the race knew the result at the checkered flag.

At Pocono in 2022, the Joe Gibbs Racing cars of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch – which finished first and second respectively – were both disqualified when NASCAR found issues with the cars in post-race inspection. 

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Mars Crunchy Cookie Toyota Camry

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Mars Crunchy Cookie Toyota Camry

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

Extra layers of vinyl were discovered in the lower fascia at the bottom part of the nose that attaches to the splitter. The single piece of clear tape, which was on both cars, measured 2 inches wide and 5½ inches long with a thickness of 0.012 inches and was installed underneath the wrap, effectively the cars’ livery.

NASCAR admitted it “had no inclination prior that there was anything there and were very surprised at what we found.” JGR blamed a “change in our build process was not properly vetted” and did not appeal.

Hamlin and Busch were given credit for finishes of 35th and 36th, respectively.

At Talladega in 2023, SHR’s Kevin Harvick was disqualified for violating the NASCAR rule that states “windshield fasteners must remain secure for the entire event”. It did not appeal.

Penske’s Ryan Blaney was initially disqualified from the Las Vegas race in 2023, because the left-front shock didn’t meet the overall specified length outlined in NASCAR’s rulebook. But this was later rescinded when NASCAR discovered an issue with the damper template it used for inspection.

Who else has paid for Next Gen transgressions?

As well as Hendrick, Kaulig and SHR, NASCAR Cup teams Front Row Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing have also been hit with $100,000 fines and severe points penalties for altering single-source supplied parts, judged as L2 Level transgressions.

The consensus in the garage is that these big monetary and points fines are essential to keep teams in line, and the advent of laser-scanning technical inspections have made it easier for the scrutineers to discover any deviation from the templates for each body design.

Daniel Hemric, Kaulig Racing, Chevrolet Camaro is wheeled to inspection

Daniel Hemric, Kaulig Racing, Chevrolet Camaro is wheeled to inspection

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

This is why hidden-away parts, and even windshield fasteners and racewear, have become the emphasis for teams to explore the grey areas of the rule book.

But as veteran crew chief Larry McReynolds, who is no stranger to the dark arts of making stock cars go faster, quipped of the Logano situation in Atlanta: “Don’t do it on a weekend where you have an in-car camera!”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr, JTG Daugherty Racing, Oscar Mayer/Artesano Bread Chevrolet Camaro

Ricky Stenhouse Jr, JTG Daugherty Racing, Oscar Mayer/Artesano Bread Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: David Rosenblum / NKP / Motorsport Images

Does NASCAR ever fine drivers for fighting?

It’s rare for NASCAR to fine its drivers for fighting, as it likes to give them the opportunity, as it quaintly puts it, to “have their time to express their differences”.

But when Ricky Stenhouse Jr, his father and pitcrew members got involved in a fight with Kyle Busch after the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro, NASCAR felt it needed to act. It also considered that Stenhouse and co. had waiting 198 laps to exact their revenge.

Stenhouse punched Busch in the face, which triggered the multi-person fracas, and was fined $75,000. His father was indefinitely suspended from NASCAR events, and two members of Stenhouse’s No. 47 JTG Daugherty team were also suspended for a set number of races.

The previous biggest fine for fighting was for renowned hot-head Tony Stewart, who was fined $50,000 for hitting Brian Vickers at Sonoma in 2004.

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