When NASCAR audited its latest round of tires, one team's set was found not to be holding air properly: the #31 car of Richard Childress Racing driver Ryan Newman. The tires had a slow leak that allowed the tire to bleed off extra air and remain at a more consistent pressure throughout a race.
Although NASCAR teams use nitrogen in their tires, nitrogen still expands. When a tire gets hot, pressure inside increases, and the tire itself balloons outward, your tire doesn't maintain the same contact patch as it had before it heated up. Less contact with the track surface results in slower speeds and less control. So, releasing some air to maintain constant pressure inside the tire is a huge advantage, and modifying a safety item to do it is a big no-no.
No one so far is specifying the location of the leak in the number 31 car's tires, but former NASCAR crew chief Larry McReynolds told Fox Sports that the team likely drilled a hole that was less than ten-thousandths of an inch into the tire itself.
NASCAR ranks their penalty for holey tires as a P5 in their P1-to-P6, lowest-to-highest scale of offenses. In addition to the catch-all "actions detrimental to stock car racing" Rule 12.1, the series claims that Newman's tires violated these rules:
20.16: Wheels and tires
A. Any device, modification, or procedure to the tire or wheel, including the valve stem hardware, that is used to release pressure, beyond normal pressure adjustments, from the tire and/or inner shield, will not be permitted.
F. Modifications to the tires, by treatment or any other means, will not be permitted.
Wheels and tires aren't just standardized in NASCAR for the sake of competition. Any hole accidentally drilled in them that would result in more than a slow leak could be potentially dangerous.
Richard Childress Racing is in the process of appealing the decision. Team president Torrey Galida released this statement on the team's Twitter account:
We understand the seriousness of the penalty. In fact, RCR has been one of the most outspoken opponents against 'tire bleeding' since the rumors began to surface last season. Once NASCAR provides us with the specific details of the infraction we will conduct a further internal investigation, and evaluate our options for an appeal.
Should they lose the appeal, NASCAR will fine Newman crew chief Luke Lambert $125,000 ($75,000 for the infraction plus an extra $50,000 for the fact that it was discovered in a post-race audit) and suspend him for the next six Sprint Cup Championship races (along with any other NASCAR events that happen in the meantime). Lambert would remain on NASCAR probation until December 31 after that. Team tire technician James Bender and team engineer Philip Surgen would also be suspended for six races and be on probation until the end of the year.
Should the penalties start with next week's race at Texas Motor Speedway, the crew members will effectively be out for seven races, as the May Sprint All-Star Race is not part of the Sprint Cup Championship.
Both Ryan Newman and car owner Richard Childress would lose 75 points each in the driver's and owner's championship, respectively.
Newman stands to lose the most here, as being without your main crew chief is a huge setback in NASCAR. The driver may be the center of everyone's attention, but he relies on crew members to set up the car well and provide competent work as well as guidance during the race.
According to NASCAR Vice President of Integrated Marketing and Communications David Higdon, NASCAR agreed to hold on enforcing any suspensions or fines until their decision on Richard Childress Racing's appeal. The points have been taken away in the meantime, however, they will be reinstated if the number 31 car wins its appeal.
"NASCAR takes very seriously its responsibility to govern and regulate the rules of the sport in order to ensure competitive balance," said NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell in an emailed release about the penalites. "We've been very clear that any modifications to race vehicle tires is an unacceptable practice and will not be tolerated."
According to NBC Sports, the team is currently working with NASCAR to schedule a hearing for the appeal.
This isn't the first (allegedly!) cheaty thing Richard Childress Racing has been busted for this year. Crew chief Slugger Labbe was fined $50,000 and suspended for three weeks over illegal truck trailing arm modifications to Brian Scott's number 33 car.
Get it together, RCR.
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