Crew chief Adam Stevens will be on the sidelines for the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway. NASCAR released its weekly penalty report on Tuesday, which indicated Stevens has been fined $20,000 and suspended for Martinsville due to improperly installed lug nuts on his #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota piloted by Christopher Bell.
After Bell finished eighth in Sunday’s race at Kansas, the #20 was found to have violated Section 10.9.10.4 of the NASCAR rulebook: “Tires and Wheels: Lug nut(s) not properly installed.” Specifically, the #20 had two loose nuts; had only one been off, Stevens would have just received a $10,000 fine while three or more would result in disqualification and points penalties.
Stevens is currently in his first season as Bell’s crew chief after spending the last six years with team-mate Kyle Busch. Although the Stevens/Busch duo enjoyed a pair of championships in 2015 and 2019, a difficult 2020 campaign prompted changes to the JGR lineups that led to Stevens joining Bell while Ben Beshore became Busch’s new pit box leader. With two races remaining, Bell sits twelfth in points and scored his maiden Cup win at the Daytona Road Course in February.
This is the third time that Stevens has been suspended. In 2017, he and two pit crew members were barred for four races due to a loose wheel that came off entirely at Dover. Three years later, he missed the fall Richmond race for the same lug nut infraction as at Kansas.
While Stevens misses one race, penalties were not as kind to Xfinity Series operation Our Motorsports. The #23 car driven by Patrick Emerling lost a ballast during the Saturday Kansas race, a serious violation of Rule Section 184.108.40.206.4d: “Loss or separation of added ballast from the vehicle.” Consequently, crew chief Kenneth Roettger, car chief Robert Anderson, and mechanic Drew Beason have been suspended for the next four races.
Ballasts are made of materials like tungsten and lead, and can weigh as much as 35 pounds. When on the track, this dense and heavy object poses a dangerous hazard to other cars, an issue best exhibited in 2015 when Xfinity driver Jamie Dick had his windshield and helmet crushed by a ballast at Iowa (though he was not injured) while Carl Long broke his shoulder after hitting one at Dover. In 2020, JGR’s Denny Hamlin lost his crew chief, car chief, and engineer for four rounds after a tungsten ballast came off at Charlotte.
As there are only two races left in the Xfinity season, the trio’s suspension will carry over into the first two races of 2022. Assuming no offseason roster changes, this means the three may return at Las Vegas on 5 March.
The Our #23 began the 2021 season as an RSS Racing entry before switching hands as Our wished to field a second car but was unable to do so due to a rained-out qualifying in the opener causing their #03 to be locked out of races without such sessions. Multiple drivers have driven the #23 in 2021, which is twenty-first in owner points. Emerling finished twenty-fourth at Kansas while Natalie Decker is scheduled to race at Martinsville.
Other penalties from Kansas were lug nut related as Cup crew chiefs Paul Wolfe (Joey Logano) and Johnny Klausemeier (Chase Briscoe) both received $10,000 fines for single loose lugs, as did Jason Trinchere (A.J. Allmendinger) and Jeff Meendering (Brandon Jones, also a JGR driver) at the Xfinity level.