After their conduct in the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season finale, a trio of teams have been penalised for race manipulation. On Wednesday, NASCAR announced Spire Motorsports, Premium Motorsports, and Rick Ware Racing have received points penalties, fines, and suspensions for attempting to change the results of the owners’ championship during the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The three teams’ behaviour raised suspicion from NASCAR officials during the race, who approached the trio immediately after it ended.
“Following a thorough review of race data and driver/team communication from the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as well as interviews with several competitors, NASCAR has determined that the Nos. 15, 27, 52 and 77 teams have violated Sections 12.8.g and 12.8.1 of the NASCAR rule book, which addresses manipulating the outcome of a race,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said. “As a result, those teams in violation of the rule book have been penalized as listed in the penalty report.”
Although discussion between the two parties was not disclosed to the public, fans and media also caught eye of the situation. The day after the race, Reddit user /u/FixMyLamp2 posted a thread on /r/NASCAR in which they investigated whether Premium’s #15, Ware’s #52, and Spire’s #77 cars intentionally retired from the race to help the second Premium car, the #27, get a higher finish in the owners’ points. Entering the race, the #27 was the highest-placed team in the owners’ championship that did not possess a charter, holding a seven-point advantage over the #96 of Gaunt Brothers Racing; the best-finishing non-charter team would receive the highest payout among those without one. While the purse is not publicly available, one can reasonably assume it is higher than those below them.
Drew Herring, who was making his Cup début in the #96, was running twenty-ninth (which gives out eight points), while the #27 of Ross Chastain was in thirty-eighth for just one point. As a result, both teams would be tied atop the non-charter standings, but the #96 held the advantage as GBR’s other driver Parker Kligerman had a better overall race finish (fifteenth on two occasions; Reed Sorenson held the #27’s best run of eighteenth at Talladega Superspeedway in the spring). As a result, the only other possibility for the #27 to beat out the #96 would be to finish higher.
To accomplish this, especially with Chastain’s lack of progress and the unlikelihood of a caution, the #15 of Joe Nemechek, which was running thirty-second, went to the garage with thirty laps remaining. Over the next fifteen laps, Sorenson ignored multiple calls to pit before finally obliging, followed by the #52 of Josh Bilicki. Chastain would finish thirty-fifth and Herring twenty-ninth, which allowed the #27 to edge out the #96 by one point (156 to 155). Bilicki, Sorenson, and Nemechek all finished behind Chastain with mechanical issues as the official retirement reason.
Writer Toby Christie also looked into the matter; when he interviewed Bilicki, the driver explained the driver explained they had forgotten to add a lug nut during their last pit stop (a $10,000 fine); as they had already incurred another fine the previous week at ISM Raceway, they could not risk doing so again. He also noted they were on older tyres and did not want to affect the Championship Round drivers, especially after the #52 was involved in an incident with eventual champion Kyle Busch in the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Competition directors Scott Eggleston (Premium) and Kenneth Evans (Ware) were indefinitely suspended and fined $25,000. The three teams’ owners Rick Ware, Jay Robinson (Premium), and T.J. Puchyr (Spire) each received $50,000 fines and fifty points were reduced from their standings. As a result, GBR is now the highest non-charter team in 2019.
“Following the season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway, NASCAR assessed a penalty against Spire Motorsports for the actions of an individual who made a judgment call on behalf of our team,” a statement from Puchyr and Spire co-owner Jeff Dickerson read. “While the ultimate outcome of that decision can be interpreted from different perspectives, we regret any appearance of operating outside the spirit of the rule book. We accept the penalty and will not appeal. We’re proud of all we accomplished with this team in our first season and look forward to getting back to the business of racing at Daytona in February.”