Much like your high-school algebra teacher who did their best to explain that, yes, letters do belong in math, NASCAR really, really wants race teams to stop cheating. And much like said teacher, the punishments—zeros on homework, potentially championship-ending penalties—just aren’t stopping the crimes.
A few days after Kevin Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team won at Texas Motor Speedway to lock themselves into the final championship race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR slapped a big “Nope” across all of that. The sanctioning body took away Harvick’s automatic championship berth and docked the team a decent chunk of points, and rightfully so: NASCAR determined the No. 4 car’s spoiler cheated like Volkswagen on an emissions test.
But cheating isn’t a new, revolutionary or rare thing in NASCAR, and it sounds like the people making the rules are about sick of it. Race teams can go through technical inspection again and again to get it right, as we saw when NASCAR miscounted the times Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson went through tech before passing in Texas and gave him the wrong penalty for it.
NASCAR apologized for that mistake, but the sanctioning body is about done with its leniency period for teams. After the penalty news came out, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, Scott Miller, said NASCAR will use the offseason to look at ways to punish teams harder for cheating.
From his quotes in Autosport:
“We have to change the culture. We can’t just say ‘take that [illegal element] off’ because ‘take that off’ obviously isn’t working anymore,” said [...] Miller.
“Teams should be bringing legal cars to the racetrack, and we shouldn’t have to do those inspections all the time.
“I think we’re getting in the borderline ridiculous territory.”
NASCAR teams push the rules almost instinctively, especially in a sport that inspects cars using heat maps to determine legality, but Autosport wrote that Miller wants future penalties to discourage going “beyond accepted limits.”
For the issues in Texas, Harvick got the championship advantages of the win taken away, a 40-point penalty, and lost his crew chief and car chief for the last two races of the year. The penalties came a few days after Texas, since NASCAR made the call in a later inspection at its Research and Development Center.
Here’s what Miller said may get added to the penalty tally for this kind of thing next year, via Autosport:
“We’ve heard the fans call out for, ‘Why don’t you DQ [disqualify] the offending car?’ That’s actually a topic of discussion, among with many other things.
“Certainly points, the deterrence model, fines, suspensions.
“That’s always on our plates during the winter.”
“Borderline ridiculous territory” for cheating car modifications, in Harvick’s case, was the spoiler being offset and potentially wrongfully manufactured for the Texas Motor Speedway race. The spoiler was offset to the right, according to Miller’s quotes in Autoweek, by “200 and 300 thousandths” of an inch. Miller said at 200 mph, that’s an aerodynamic advantage.
NASCAR spoilers are also supposed to come from a single-source supplier for all teams, Miller told Autosport, but officials inspecting the No. 4 believe Stewart-Haas made its own spoiler for Texas. (The team commented on all of this before the details came out, saying, “NASCAR determined we ventured into an area not accommodated by its rule book.” It also said it wouldn’t appeal the penalty.)
That’s pretty blatant cheating, but NASCAR and cheating go together like Top Gear and dudes in leather jackets—or algebra and copied homework. That’s simply how the natural order of life goes. It’s even easy to argue that cheating in NASCAR is a feature, not a bug.
But with the cheating, it’s just a whole lot more fun, and a whole lot less of a headache, when they get caught doing it on camera instead of in some remote inspection building three days after the race.