Did a leading championship contender just have his title hopes jeopardized because his pit crew got caught cheating on national TV?
NASCAR penalized Chase Elliott 15 points Tuesday after discovering an unapproved “modification of components to affect the aerodynamic properties of the vehicle.” In other words, his crew did something illegal to the car to make it go faster.
Here’s where the story gets potentially interesting: Elliott finished second to Martin Truex Jr. in Sunday’s playoff-opening race at Chicago. After the race, NBC interviewed Elliott as he stood next to his car. Behind him, cameras show a member of Elliott’s crew rolling his hand along the top of the spoiler of his No. 24 car.
Monday, a thread was posted to Reddit speculating that tape had been applied to the top of Elliott’s spoiler. The thread included a screenshot of the back of Elliott’s car where there appears to be something small sticking up from the top of Elliott’s spoiler. It also includes video of the crew member rolling his hand along the top of the spoiler post race. The Reddit poster, claiming a connection to the NASCAR garage, theorized that Elliott’s team put tape on the spoiler to help increase rear downforce. A spoiler is, of course, an aerodynamic component of the vehicle.
A higher spoiler leads to more grip and can help with corner speeds at a track like Chicago.
The Reddit thread even led to Brad Keselowski to crack a joke on Twitter.
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) September 19, 2017
As a result of the penalty, Elliott is now in eighth in the standings. He was sixth, two points behind fourth, immediately after the race. The top 12 out of a 16-driver playoff field advance to the second round of the playoffs after three races in the first round.
NASCAR also suspended Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson for a race and fined him $15,000. Car chief Joshua Kirk has also been suspended for a race.
NASCAR’s penalty announcement doesn’t specify what unapproved modifications were made to Elliott’s car – so we can’t say for certain that what was pointed out on Reddit is what caused the penalty. Elliott’s car was one of three taken back to NASCAR’s research and development center after the race. But the presence of the post and the timing of the penalty are certainly a ridiculous coincidence at the very least. And maybe NASCAR can start to be like the PGA Tour, where viewers at home can call in penalties to the sanctioning body to review and assess.
That previous sentence is a joke. The last thing we need are legions of Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans calling in penalties on the 39 other cars in an attempt to get their hero a win in his final season.
Because of the penalty, Elliott’s second-place finish is now “encumbered,” meaning it can’t be used as a tiebreaker at the end of the first round. If drivers are tied in the points standings, the best finish in a given round is used as the tiebreaker.
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