NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby met the media to discuss the penalties issued to the winning No. 33 car of Clint Bowyer following last weekend's Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire. Bowyer and car owner Richard Childress each lost 150 championship driver and owner points, respectively. Bowyer went from second to 12th in the Sprint Cup Series standings as a result. His crew chief Shane Wilson was fined $150,000, suspended for the next six Sprint Cup events and placed on probation until the end of the year. Car chief Chad Haney was also suspended for the next six events and placed on probation until the end of the year.
Q: Robin, is what you found on the 33 car from New Hampshire exactly the same as what you found from the 33 car after Richmond? In other words, were the cars the same and you had told them that they should be changed? ROBIN PEMBERTON:
No, the cars weren't the same, but it was in the same area of the car in the body measurements that we talked to the 33 about, or RCR about. It was in the same area.
Q: My question is, is this a total disregard of listening to NASCAR saying, "You're too close," when you call in a team for a meeting and they come in, then how much of a disregard for NASCAR do you see this as? And also, there's a lot of conversation about whether you're legal or illegal. If NASCAR calls you in and says you're too close to the line, some people say that's your job to get close to the line. So if you could clear any of that up, that would be great.
JOHN DARBY: Well, "close to the line" is something that we see pretty frequently. I mean, the teams three years later are much more comfortable with the car, they're much more comfortable with NASCAR's procedures, and they're much more comfortable trying to use a little of our tolerances to their advantage.
But as we've done in the past and will continue to do so in trying to regulate the sport, a big responsibility of NASCAR is to work as hard to keep people out of trouble as it is to write penalties. Obviously, when it gets to the point that we have to write a penalty, it's not fun for everybody. So if we can take steps in the interim or in the "in-between" to put something to rest and not have it be an issue, well, by all means we'll exhaust every effort that we can to do that.
And I think what you started to ask at the beginning is just too speculative. All we know is that the car that we inspected this week post-race New Hampshire did not meet the specifications, so we didn't have an alternative but to issue a penalty.
Q: For Robin or John, was there a performance advantage gained from this? Are you able to glean that from whatever happened with them not meeting specifications at New Hampshire? Do you think it made the car faster, whatever it was that they did? ROBIN PEMBERTON:
I don't think that's for us to decide. We're into the rules and regulations part, and the car didn't meet specifications, and that's the bottom line.
Q: I was going to ask you just a layman's question: Exactly what was found, too low, too high, too wide? Can you explain exactly what was found and by how many inches, etc.? JOHN DARBY:
Well, it was the measurements that we take – and we take a lot of them in post-race – but specifically it revolves around how the body of the car is located on the frame in all three coordinates, X, Y and Z, which is four and a half left and right, up and down. Respectfully, and I hope you'll understand this, our teams do have the ability to proceed with an appeal, so to really get into some of the actual specific measurements of the car and car numbers I don't think would be fair to either the RCR group or NASCAR itself, so I'll decline from that.
Q: How does a car pass inspection at the racetrack and then fail inspection back in North Carolina?
JOHN DARBY: It's really two different styles of inspections. And here's what I think I can relate it to the best: As everybody is probably a lot more familiar with the engines before the race, the best we can from the external atmosphere of the engine or the environment, we have some gauges and machines we do. But to inspect the engine as thoroughly as we do in post-race is very intrusive. And what I mean by that is the engine has to be disassembled to allow us to measure the internal components of the engine.
The car today is much that same way. The big claw or the big grid that everybody has seen us use on the exterior of the car ensures us that the fenders are the right shape, the roof is the right width and the length and the construction of the body, from a shape aspect, is correct. But it's much, again, just like an engine; it's too intrusive to run the rest of the inspection in the field because to do that you have to disassemble so much of the racecar. The engine has got to be out, certain crush panels have got to be out, a lot of interior components have got to be out to be able to set the car up and accurately measure the car like we do at the tech center. And that's why we do it here and that's why we don't do it in the field.
Q: Robin, this is just a massive penalty. Was the size of the penalty a direct result of the fact that you gave them one chance and they failed to heed it? ROBIN PEMBERTON:
Well, I think that if you look at – we haven't had a penalty like this in a while. But I think it was nearly two years ago we had a penalty that was this big as it related to the body by the Red Bull team, and that was 150 points, $150 grand, and that was a post-race infraction. So you know, it just follows suit of that type of penalty. We don't look at backing down. We ride it flat for a while, and then at some point we ratchet the penalties up.
Q: What was the timetable in terms of when RCR first learned that there was a problem with the 33 Richmond car, and what was the timetable of the series of conversations or meetings that you had with them?
JOHN DARBY: I think the process started during our post-race inspection last Tuesday. In just about all cases, the team members are present as we welcome and, in most cases, we appreciate their attendance in the post-race inspection process. And so as the initial inspection process from Richmond unveiled itself, there was obvious – they saw numbers that we saw at the same time, which resulted in some meetings last Tuesday. Those meetings turned into conversations throughout the week with a final let's get all of the principals of RCR together along with the principals of NASCAR and really have a very clear understanding of how we're going to proceed going forward, which happened later in the week.
All of those conversations were held and in place before we started competition at Loudon.Q: Did you all ever consider taking away the win, and is there any thought of giving teams that are in the Chase higher penalties for Chase infractions?
No, as you know we don't consider taking away the win. And to follow that up, we feel like the penalties are – we are trying to be consistent throughout the year, and if you ask some, they would consider a 150-point penalty with only nine races to go in the Chase a pretty hefty penalty at that. For now we'll leave the winners as they come off the racetrack, and we will fine people accordingly as we do throughout the year.
Q: I know you don't want to get into too many specifics about what was wrong with the car, but the penalty announcement mentioned a couple of violations, equipment and I assume what was wrong with the placement and so forth. Are those things related, or are we talking about two different situations here? JOHN DARBY:
No, they're all related. The racecar itself is considered race equipment, and basically those are the two sections of the rulebook that pretty much encompass cars, car parts, components, so on and so forth. The construction dimensions and things probably more relate to the second violation.
Q: Have you guys looked at other RCR cars, the 29 and the 31, and have you seen any issues with those throughout the year that would suggest that maybe they were headed in this direction with the 33?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Other RCR cars have been through here, have passed their post-race inspections. We haven't seen that problem.
Q: Kind of back to what was asked earlier about how you pass on Sunday and then fail on Wednesday, it seems like there's a lack of trust issue among fans, in that they can't trust what they see on Sunday. ROBIN PEMBERTON:
You know, we do our final post-race inspection on Tuesdays, and it's not any different than if we were at 9:00 on a Sunday night and tore an engine down and would find it to be big. By then the fans have gone, they've left the racetrack, and they understand the winner is the winner.
Q: Robin, you've been on both sides of the coin here. Going back to 1990, from a competitor's standpoint, what are the emotions that go through your mind when you face a penalty like this? ROBIN PEMBERTON:
I'm sure it hasn't changed throughout the years for anybody to have won on Sunday and not been able to feel good about it on Monday or Tuesday, and I'm sure it's a knot in their stomach and a lump in their throat when things like this happen. It's not any easier on our part than it is on the competitor, because we sure don't want these types of things to happen, either. Q: Do you still have the 33 car? If so, when might that be returned? And, why not consider the 195-point penalty and just take away all the points? I understand the comment about 150 following up from two years ago, but in essence this is an illegal car and it still gained 45 points. ROBIN PEMBERTON:
I think that going back to the points penalty, you know – at some point in time I think that you will see it continue to rise and you may even see it be more than what you can even gain by starting a race. It could get into the 200-point category at some point in time. We'll get there sooner or later for you.
Q: After both the 5 and the 48 cars were found to be – you didn't quite say illegal after Richmond but you certainly found problems with them, so how come the Hendrick cars were not put under the same kind of scrutiny as the RCR car?
Well, they were. When we work with the teams, when they see them heading in a direction that could wind up bad for everybody, we get together and we talk about it. Hendrick immediately fixed any errors that they had in what, moving forward, could become a problem, and that's the difference between that and today. These problems, these issues, weren't addressed.
Q: Is it possible that on-track contact could have caused the problem? The car had to be pushed in by a tow truck. Could that have caused the problem?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: We looked at a lot of different things, and we feel like we have a lot of documentation from cars for the last four years or so, and we understand that we have had cars with some severe body damage and cars without, and we don't feel that the incidental contact from a push from a wrecker helped push this car out of tolerance at all.