Hendrick Motorsports is taking its case to the court of public opinion. Days after NASCAR handed down its largest team penalty in history, Hendrick executives met with the media to give their side of the story.
Wednesday Hendrick’s four teams were each handed stiff penalties stemming from issues NASCAR officials found on the team’s cars prior to last weekends race at Phoenix. During an inspection on Friday, NASCAR found the hood louvers on each of the team’s cars had been modified. They allowed the teams to practice, but then seized the parts for later study. When the penalties were announced, all 4 Hendrick crew chiefs were fined $100,000 and suspended for four races, and each team was also penalized with the loss of 100 points and 10 playoff points.
The $400,000 fine is the largest for a team in NASCAR’s history. The previous record belonged to the now defunct Michael Waltrip Racing and its three cars which were fined $100,000 each in 2013 for manipulating the result of the fall Cup race at Richmond.
Shortly after the penalties were revealed Wednesday, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer met with the media and said that as they investigated the parts it was obvious, they had been modified in an unapproved area leading to the penalties.
“This is a consistent penalty with what we went through last year with other competitors,” Sawyer said. “So we felt like to keep the garage on a level playing field, the competition level where it needs to be. All the dialogue that went around this car last year, working with the owners on what the deterrent model should be, were put in a position that we didn’t feel like there was no other way but to write a penalty.”
Later that same day the team said they would be appealing saying in a statement that NASCAR took the parts four hours after the cars were first inspected “with no prior communication.” The basis of their appeal, according to their statement, was that the “louvers provided to teams through NASCAR’s mandated single-source supplier do not match the design submitted by the manufacturer and approved by NASCAR.” And that “Recent comparable penalties issued by NASCAR have been related to issues discovered during a post-race inspection.”
Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup series race, Hendrick Motorsports president and general manager Jeff Andrews along with vice president of competition Chad Knaus met with the media. Knaus said the team hasn’t exactly decided how their appeal argument will be laid out, saying “honestly it’s pretty messy right now.”
He said that part of the problem stems from a lack of communication.
“When we started to get parts at the beginning of the 2023 season, we didn’t have the parts that we thought we were going to have,” Knaus said. “So through a tremendous amount of back and forth with NASCAR, the OEMs and the teams, there’s been conversations about whether we can clean up the parts, not clean up the parts. And it’s changed, quite honestly, every couple of weeks.
“So it’s been challenging for us to navigate and we’re just going to have to see what happens when we get through the appeal.”
Knaus also said the inspection that first uncovered the parts was known as a ‘voluntary inspection.’
“The way the voluntary inspections happen; when you show up to the racetrack with that type of a schedule, you have a mandatory safety and a mandatory engine inspection,” he said. “Everything else beyond that is up to the teams.
“We typically choose to go ahead and put the car in for the voluntary inspection so that NASCAR has the opportunity to say ‘hey, we don’t like this’ or ‘maybe you need to tweak that’, or whatever it may be. And that’s been pretty much the standard cadence. I don’t know that there’s too many teams that usually go through the voluntary inspections and don’t get told ‘hey, you need to come work on this a little bit before you show back up tomorrow’.”
According to the team, there was no warning from NASCAR. Officials took the louvres a full four hours after the voluntary inspection. Knaus said that part of their issues have to do with communication from NASCAR to the teams.
“Yeah, there’s been dialogue.,” Knaus said. “Like I stated, we submitted a part through the OEM to NASCAR, and then NASCAR chose the single source provider for those components. The components haven’t been coming the way that we expected them to be for a couple of the OEM’s as far as I know in the garage, and definitely all of the Chevrolet teams. So we started to have dialogue with them in early February about those problems.
“So it was us through our aerodynamic department, through our OEM, back through NASCAR, back to us and back through our OEM. So there’s a significant amount of communication that’s been had. It’s definitely confusing. The timelines are curious, but they’re there.”
According to Knaus, all the team did was make the louvres themselves fit into the hood of their Chevrolet and he didn’t understand what the issue could have been with that.
“There was a parity test – as you guys know, we went to a new aerodynamic package when we went to Phoenix (Raceway),” Knaus said. “As they did that, what the OEM did when they went through the parity test, per NASCAR’s guidance, was to modify the louver… to get the airflow correct through there so that we could fit inside the aerodynamic box that NASCAR created. So the OEM did that.
“We went to Phoenix with what would be considered the new aerodynamic package – the small spoiler, the underbody treatments, all of that. All of that being the same thing in how the cars were tested to be proper for the parity test.”
When NASCAR developed its new car, one of the elements was the cost savings to the teams made possible in large part through the use of single sourced parts given to all the teams. Knaus said its those single sourced parts, ones they have very little control over, that are the issue.
“It’s been trying,” he said. “Look, we’ve all jumped in bed on this thing together since we started this Gen-7 car. And that’s the thing that I think we’ve all prided ourselves on in the garage, is that there’s been a tremendous amount of give-and-take as we’ve tried to learn how to race this car and work together.
“It’s very disappointing to me that we’re sitting in this situation right now with a component that we’ve all come to the conclusion that it is not correct, and we’ve all tried to work to get it fixed because we’ve done that with other parts.”
He said that because of the communication issues, he feels the parts may have been faulty when they were given to the team.
“I can tell you this,” he said. “We’ve got a brand-new set of these parts that we can go pull off the shelf right now that NASCAR deemed illegal and inappropriate for us to race.”
And the lack of communication on the Friday before Phoenix is also confusing he said.
“We knew there was some attention to that area when we first went through technical inspection,” Knaus said. “And that’s what’s really disappointing, to be quite honest, because we had plenty of time to get those parts off the car if they felt like there was something wrong.
“I can assure you if we knew there was going to be a four hour lag and we thought there was something wrong, they would have been in the trash can and burned with fuel somewhere so nobody would ever see them. We had no idea that we were going to be sitting in this position. So once again, really disappointed that we’re in the position that we’re in right now.”
As for the fines, the loss of points, and the suspensions of their crew chiefs, Knaus said there is no one of the penalties that stands out above the rest.
“It’s a terrible situation, not only for us, but for the industry, to be quite honest with you, “he said. “That’s what I dislike the most – it’s ugly, we shouldn’t be in this situation and it’s really unfortunate that we are because it doesn’t help anybody.”
He said it’s the bigger picture of what he said is happening that stands out most of all.
“We as a company, we as the garage – every one of these teams are being held accountable to put their car out there to go through inspection and perform at the level that they need to,” Knaus said. “The teams are being held accountable for doing that. Nobody is holding the single source providers accountable at the level they need to be to give us the parts that we need. Now, that goes through NASCAR’s distribution center and NASCAR’s approval process to get those parts and we’re not getting the right parts.”