Brad Keselowski and Daniel Suárez have lost their crew chiefs for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. NASCAR’s weekly post-race penalty sheet for the most recent weekend at Phoenix Raceway revealed Jeremy Bullins, who oversees Keselowski’s #12 Team Penske Ford, and Travis Mack, the leader of the pit box for Suárez’s #99 Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet, have received one-race suspensions and $20,000 fines apiece due to lug nuts violations. Grant Hutchens and Jose Blasco-Figueroa will take over as the #12 and #99 crew chiefs, respectively, in their début races in the position.
Following the Instacart 500 on Sunday, the #2 and #99 were found with two missing or loose lug nuts each. While one lug nut would have resulted in just a $10,000 fine, three or more would equal disqualification; Bullins had already been fined for a one-nut violation after the Daytona road course event in late February. With the Next Gen car set to have single-lug wheels, these infractions will be effectively obsolescent by 2022.
A longtime crew chief in the Penske stable, Bullins became Keselowski’s pit box leader in 2020 after spending the last five seasons working with team-mate Ryan Blaney and the #12 team. In their first season together, the Bullins/Keselowski duo won four races and finished second in the championship. After the first five races of 2021, Keselowski is second in points with three top-five finishes and a best run of second at Las Vegas.
Penske engineer Hutchens was previously in the role at Richard Petty Motorsports (including predecessor Evernham Motorsports) and Richard Childress Racing, the latter of which saw him work as the lead engineer and enjoy race victories with Paul Menard and Kevin Harvick. Hutchens later moved to Penske and worked under Bullins as the vehicle dynamicist.
Trackhouse, a new team for the 2021 Cup season, hired Mack away from Xfinity Series team JR Motorsports after he had spent the last three years as the crew chief for Michael Annett. His last Cup experience was in 2018 for Kasey Kahne at JRM parent team Hendrick Motorsports, where he worked the first fifteen races before being replaced by Jon Leonard. A longtime mechanic in the Hendrick stable, he was the car chief for JRM owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. from 2015 to 2017, which included debuting as his crew chief while Greg Ives was serving a suspension, incidentally also for lug nut violations.
Blasco was previously a race engineer at RCR, working on the #31 of Ryan Newman and #8 of Tyler Reddick; before RCR, he served in the same capacity at the now-defunct BK Racing. He also worked as the engineer for Camping World Truck Series team Halmar Friesen Racing in 2020.
Initially reported on Monday by Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press, Blasco’s arrival will place him on the pit box for a fellow Mexican. A Mexico City native, Blasco has worked on Suárez’s teams in the past, though Atlanta will mark the first time that a Mexican driver worked alongside a crew chief of the same nationality since brothers Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez in 1959. Suárez is currently twenty-fourth in the standings with a best finish of fifteenth at Homestead.
Bullins and Mack are the second and third crew chiefs to suffer suspensions for lug nut infractions. The previous week, Cole Custer‘s crew chief Mike Shiplett received the same penalty and missed the Phoenix race.
Matt McCall (#1 of Kurt Busch), Ben Beshore (#18 of Kyle Busch), and Rudy Fugle (#24 of William Byron) all received $10,000 fines for single-nut infractions. While the Xfinity race had no penalties, Jonathan Stewart of Truck team GMS Racing (particularly the #21 of Zane Smith) was slapped with a behavioral penalty and is serving an indefinite suspension after a substance abuse violation.