Paul Menard's crew chief is fined, suspended

Paul Menard's crew chief Slugger Labbe (left), shown with Sterling Marlin in 2007, was fined and suspended until Oct. 3 after it was discovered that frame rails had been modified in an effort to deceive the inspectors.

NASCAR has fined Paul Menard’s crew chief $100,000 for illegal modifications found on the Chevrolet last weekend at Michigan.


Slugger Labbe was also suspended until Oct. 3 in penalties NASCAR announced Wednesday.

Menard’s car was taken back to NASCAR’s research and development center after Sunday’s race. NASCAR said the frame rails had been intentionally modified in an effort to deceive inspectors.

Menard and car owner Richard Childress were each docked 25 points. Car chief Craig Smokstad and crew member Grant Hutchens were both also suspended until Oct. 3.

Labbe, Smokstad and Hutchens were all placed on probation through the end of the year.

LOOKING AHEAD: Although there are 13 races remaining in the current season, many drivers already are looking forward to new cars for 2013.

NASCAR ordered changes for next year with an emphasis on returning manufacturer identity. And while the cars will look more like production models, they also will have other changes that supposed to encourage better racing.

The shift to the new cars already started when NASCAR recently raised the height of the side skirts by more than an inch. That reduces the aerodynamic downforce and puts a lot more of the car’s success in the hands of the driver.

Next year’s car will be 100 pounds lighter to take away more downforce.

“I’m all for less downforce, tires that fall off, and I really don’t care how heavy the cars are as long as we’re able to race them and the fast cars are able to move through the field,” Carl Edwards said. “I think that’s a key and I think NASCAR is working really hard.”

Teams got a feel for the new cars during a recent test session at the Martinsville Speedway.

“I’m certainly a lot more excited than I was when the (Car of Tomorrow) first came out because I feel like we’ve learned so much over the years, and all that we’ve learned and NASCAR has learned will be implemented into that car,” Jeff Gordon said.

WILD CARDS: Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin have combined to win five of 23 races this year, but both are fading in the standings and could wind up being wild card entries into the Chase for the Championship.

Stewart has three wins, but he’s dropped from sixth to ninth in the standings after finishes of 19 at Watkins Glen and 32nd at Michigan.

Hamlin has two wins, but he’s gone from fifth to 10th in the past three races with finishes of 29th, 34th and 11th.