Sprint Cup crew chiefs react to colleagues’ suspension by NASCAR

Photos courtesy Getty Images via NASCAR

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

LONG POND, Pa. – NASCAR’s latest round of penalties has not gone unnoticed in the Sprint Cup Series garage.

With two of their colleagues being suspended for lug nut violations, and one for unapproved body designs, following the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, some crew chiefs believe it’s a matter of being careful what you wish for.

Brian Pattie, who crew chiefs the No. 16 Ford driven by Greg Biffle, will not only face a two-week suspension for violations of Sections 12-1; 20.4.1; 20.4.2a,b,c and of the NASCAR rulebook but was fined $50,000. Pattie is also on probation until December 31. Additionally, the team and the driver will lose 15 points.

The violations revolve around body components or their surface and placement not being in conformance with computerized templates held by the sanctioning body, according to a NASCAR spokesperson.

“Everybody is pushing it to the limit and it could happen to the best of us,” Robert “Bootie” Barker, crew chief of the No. 13 Chevrolet driven by Casey Mears told the Performance Racing Network’s Garage Pass producer. “You have to do what you can to keep up with the Joneses to run decent.

“I don’t know what they did. I don’t know if it was body offset. I don’t know if they took something during the race and presented it in a certain way and moved it. Without really knowing what happened, I don’t know what to say.”

Paul Wolfe, crew chief of the No. 2 Ford driven by Brad Keselowski, told PRN’s producer that when a car is taken back to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. the inspection process is kicked up exponentially.

“From what I can tell by the infractions called out at this time, obviously NASCAR puts handheld template and whatnot on the car at the racetrack but if you ever get taken back to the R&D Center for post-race inspection it’s really inspecting the car with a fine-tooth comb,” Wolfe said. “ There’s a lot of things that if you want to push the limit on, you can get through the handheld template but when you get taken back and they put the car on the surface plates and measured with a FaroArm, now they are measuring hundreds of points, chassis, points, body heights … all kinds of things. And that is down to the thousandths of an inch.

“From what I can tell, maybe the 16-team missed some of those measurements. I don’t know for sure. It’s a little bit of speculation but by the penalty, it seems like it was fairly severe.”

The other two crew chiefs currently under suspension are Tony Gibson and Randall Burnett. Following the end of the race, A.J. Allmendinger’s car was found to be missing a lug nut and Burnett is paying for it – literally. He was suspended for a single race and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine, plus he will be on probation through December 31. The same punishment was give to Gibson, who’s helped Kurt Busch earn his way to second in the point standings.

Although Wolfe, nor Barker, has been hit with this penalty, they know it could happen. They also assume that risk and tell their crews to be extra vigilant – especially late in the race.

Wolfe said he felt like the garage was kind of waiting to see what happened with the lug nut penalty for the No. 47 team because others saw there were issues.

“I think everyone was waiting to see what the results of that were,” he said. “I know there were a lot of people around that saw the missing lug nut (on the 47). And I think on the 41 the lug nut was there but not up against the wheel. Every week, it seems like we are trying to understand how they are going to enforce this new rule.

“It’s easy to just saw, ‘oh, we’re all going to hit five and they’re going to be tight’ and that is fine and dandy but in this sport everyone is so close. So, I think NASCAR kind of sent a message at the All-Star Weekend where they pulled the cars down after the stops to see if the lug nuts were up against the wheel. It looks like the moments of having five glued up and only hitting four, those days may be over.”

In fact, when Keselowski came down pit road for his final pit stop last weekend one of the lug nuts was knocked off the wheel when the tire changer put it on the hub. Rather than send the driver back out on the track with just four tight, the team took the extra time to replace the lug nut and avoided a penalty. Wolfe said he understands that resulted in a longer pit stop but it is better than facing a stiff penalty from NASCAR.

“It’s all about how you manage your crew,” Wolfe said. “We communicated with all of changers that they needed to make sure, especially on the last stop of potentially the last stop when we are in our final fuel window, that all the lug nuts are on and they were tight. Ultimately, if it’s during the race the penalty is not as severe. They will make you come down pit road, fix the problem and you’ll start at the rear of the field or the tail, wherever that may be.”

Barker said he’s told his crew to do things right, especially on what will likely be the final stop of the race. He doesn’t want to sit out a week but he also doesn’t care how many lug nuts are tight – if NASCAR says they want five tight then he is going to tell his guys to have five tight.

“Like I said before, I didn’t care which it is,” Barker said. “If you wanted one lug nut or four or five I didn’t care but obviously, with how some of the drivers felt, it forced NASCAR’s hand so this is what you get.

“I tell my guys, specifically on the last stop, to make sure they hit five and they are aware of it so they do their best to do it. As far as paying the fines or whatever, I guess it is the relationship between the owner and yourself (as crew chief). He may tell you that under no circumstances are you going to get this penalty and if you do then you are paying it or he may understand that you may not have had anything to do with it, really, that your instructions weren’t followed for whatever reason. It’s really a team-by-team basis.”

One thing is certain, the drivers wanted for a lug nut rule and now everyone has to live by it.

“Exactly, that’s all it is,” Barker said.

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