NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Elliott’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team was penalized Tuesday for unapproved aerodynamic modifications to his car at Chicagoland Speedway. While that isn’t good for Elliott’s playoff hopes, what’s more interesting is that it was caught by fans on live TV.
A crew member on Elliott’s team was spotted by numerous fans on the NBC Sports race broadcast running his hand down the spoiler of Elliott’s car, as if he were trying to covertly peel off tape. Needless to say, we know who won’t be playing the next James Bond: that crew guy right behind Elliott’s shoulder.
This immediately caught some eagle-eyed fans’ attention as looking a bit fishy. The Monday after the race, a Reddit thread appeared, gathering up all the different fan theories on what this tape might do.
In the first post of the thread, Redditor ClarksonianPause claimed to have spoken with someone who saw the Hendrick team sneak the tape onto the car, who claimed that the addition of tape to the top edge of the spoiler was good for an extra 30 to 50 pounds of downforce—and more importantly, a reduction of 0.2 seconds in lap times.
That suspicious-looking crewmember for the No. 24 was caught on camera removing any trace of that tape before Elliott’s car went into post-race inspection.
Driver Brad Keselowski openly wondered if Reddit was responsible for exposing the cheaty tape:
Even NASCAR America’s analysis of the penalty credits internet chatter, fan tipsters and the Reddit thread for spotting the crew member’s suspicious looking behavior. Go internet, maybe?
We’ve since reached out to NASCAR to inquire whether fans played a role in Elliott’s penalty this time. However, it may have only been for one thing, as sources told Motorsport.com that there were several unapproved aerodynamic tweaks to Elliott’s car. [Update: Not so much. See NASCAR’s response below.]
The penalty for Elliott’s specific violation is particularly unwelcome for someone in NASCAR’s playoffs, as NASCAR notes in their announcement:
During post-race inspection, the No. 24 Chevrolet was discovered to be in violation of Section 20.20 in the NASCAR Rule Book — modification of components to affect the aerodynamic properties of the vehicle.
As a result, Chase Elliott’s second-place finish in the NASCAR Playoffs opener at Chicagoland Speedway was ruled to be encumbered, crew chief Alan Gustafson was fined $25,000 and suspended for one race, car chief Joshua Kirk was suspended for one race and the team was hit with the loss of 15 driver points and 15 owner points.
This means Elliott will start the next race of the playoffs without the crew chief he’s used to working with. He also loses points and the benefits of his second-place finish from Chicagoland, dropping him down from sixth place to eighth place in the playoff standings. Two races are left before the playoff field is cut from 16 to 12. Elliott now sits a mere 18 points ahead of the cutoff line.
Hendrick Motorsports informed NASCAR that they will not appeal the penalty.
UPDATE: NASCAR says they reached the same conclusion as the fans on their own, without the use of internet sleuths and other tipsters. A series representative told Jalopnik:
NASCAR brings the top 2 finishing cars of each Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, as well as at least one random car, to the NASCAR Research & Development Center for further inspection that includes a full car tear down. It was here, and not at all because of Reddit, that the infraction was identified. We were well aware of the photo prior to it posting to Reddit.
We can assure you that our competition executives are not going to Reddit.
Better luck next time, Reddit.
CORRECTION: The original title referred to it as a “wing,” when technically, NASCAR runs spoilers. It’s a subtle, sometimes ignored difference in terms, but for clarity’s sake, I’ve edited the title.