NASCAR keeps handing out fines and taking away points, but it doesn't seem to keep race teams from cutting corners with the rule book.
The discovery of 20-pound oil pans on all three Joe Gibbs Racing cars last week at Michigan International Speedway is another example of teams trying to find a competitive edge. All three crew chiefs -- Mike Ford, for Denny Hamlin's team; Greg Zipadelli, for Joey Logano's team; and Dave Rogers, for Kyle Busch's team -- were fined $50,000 each and placed on probation until the end of the year. The three car chiefs were also placed on probation, as was the company's vice president of racing operations, Jimmy Makar.
For Busch's team, it was the second week in a row of punishments. Rogers was fined $25,000 and Busch was docked six championship points after his car failed post-race inspection at Pocono, Pa. NASCAR said the left-front bumper was too low.
"They are just pushing the edges of the envelope," Carl Edwards said. "It is unfortunate they got caught two weeks in a row, but it is good for us because NASCAR will be watching those guys harder and paying attention to their cars a little more. That is good for the rest of us."
Edwards' team hasn't always played by the rules. He won at Las Vegas in 2008, but NASCAR found the oil tank reservoir was open to help create more downforce. His team was fined $100,000 and crew chief Bob Osborne was suspended for six races.
At some point, NASCAR hopes to reach a level of punishment that will keep teams from trying to cheat. In the case of the three Gibbs cars, it's clear the company tried to add weight to the lower front area of the car. By using a heavy oil pan, the three Gibbs Toyotas could gain some traction for the front tires.
NASCAR didn't say the oil pans weren't illegal, only that they weren't submitted for approval.
One reason why teams seem to be risking sanctions is NASCAR's policy of not taking victories away. Series founder Bill France once told his inspectors that fans had the right to know who won when they left the track. The last thing he wanted was to change the winner afterwards.
The only time a win was stripped was in 1955 at Daytona Beach when inspectors found an illegal engine modification in Glenn "Fireball" Roberts' car. Tim Flock was awarded the victory.
Hamlin knows his team will be watched closely for the rest of the year, but that won't keep Joe Gibbs Racing from trying to find a winning edge.
"We continue to evolve our cars and things like that through the course of a season. It's just, all teams do," he said. "And usually when you have something new, a new part, sometimes you submit it and sometimes you don't and I feel like this is probably one of the parts NASCAR wants you to submit. That's probably the biggest issue they had with it is that you showed up at the prom with a different date. It's just one of those instances where they were just kind of caught off guard, I think."
And it probably won't be the last time it happens.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.