NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR introduces stronger penalties for 2022

2 Mins read
Credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images

As the NASCAR Cup Series prepares to début the Next Gen car, the sanctioning body is not taking any chances with teams potentially skirting the rules. On Monday, NASCAR announced a restructured penalty system for the upcoming 2022 season that goes as far as disqualifying teams from making the playoffs entirely for especially egregious cases.

NASCAR has used an L-letter penalty tier system since 2017, with the higher number accompanying the L being harsher in punishment. In the case of the new format, an L3 penalty—which is reserved for extreme incidents like teams counterfeiting or tampering with certain Next Gen car components that are sourced from a single vendor—results in 120 to 180 points revoked from the standings, up to $500,000 in fines, and a ban from the playoffs regardless of eligibility. On the opposite extreme, an L1 penalty for just failing post-race inspection warrants a loss of up to 75 points and a $100,000 fine. Intended to reduce costs, some elements of the Next Gen car are produced by one company, such as Dallara with radiator ducts and McLaren with the digital dashboard and ECU (Engine Control Unit).

“If there aren’t penalties for altering parts and pieces on the new car, then the business model with new car won’t work,” stated NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said. “It was definitely something that was pressed for hard by the teams, and we’re doing our due diligence for establishing all the inspection procedures and all the different things. The rule book is a completely new rule book with lots more specifics than there were in the past.”

While the NASCAR rulebook might not cover every possible infraction, L1 penalties may be issued for violations like not meeting weight requirements, particular parts not adhering to regulation, or a team not submitting said parts to NASCAR for inspection and approval. The points deduction ranges from 20 to 75 points, while up to 10 playoff points can be removed. A crew member can also be suspended between one to three races, while the team is slapped with a $25,000 to $100,000 fine.

L2 penalties involve breaking engine seal rules, unapproved changes to single-vendor parts or the engine, or using electronics forbidden by NASCAR. Engine sealing, in which various components are prohibited from being changed like the engine block and each engine must run a certain number of races, became a hot topic during the 2021 season when a clerical error resulted in Hendrick MotorsportsAlex Bowman and Chase Elliott receiving L1 penalties. Those who receive L2 penalties can suffer a loss of 75 to 120 points, 10 to 25 in playoff points, one or two crew members for four to six races, and fines ranging from $100,000 to $250,000.

If a team was to counterfeit or change a single-vendor part, modify the ECU, EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection), or engine in a particular manner like adding boosting enhancers or adjusting the cubic-inch displacement, or even the fuel and tyres used, they will face an L3 penalty. Those who violate the private testing policy also fall under this category. Besides the punishments already discussed, repeat offenders can be suspended for a race.

“To make sure that all of those things stay above board, there’s going to have to be a culture shift from the way that the teams and NASCAR, for that matter, have done business,” added Miller. “This deterrence model has more meat in it, more meaningful penalties, but I think we all thought that it was it was time for this with the introduction of the new car.”

Most penalties during the 2021 season came for cars found to have loose lug nuts during post-race inspection, which will no longer be an issue as the Next Gen car has only one lug. Of course, this means that any car with a loose lug nut will simply lose that wheel and likely wreck if it tries to race anyway.

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Justin is a History major at San Jose State University and lifelong racing fan who has worked for The Checkered Flag since 2018. His coverage mainly focuses on NASCAR, the Stadium Super Trucks, and off-road series like Extreme E and SCORE International. He also dabbles in other disciplines such as IndyCar, rallycross, and sports cars.
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