While drivers have more latitude to settle their differences on the track, the sanctioning body relies on wandering eyes and ears off the track to keep teams in line with the rulebook.
That’s probably what happened with both cars owned by Roger Penske before last Saturday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.
The No. 2 Ford driven by Brad Keselowski and the No. 22 Ford for Joey Logano was targeted by NASCAR officials an hour before the NRA 500. Officials specifically wanted to inspect the rear axle housings. Both teams were ordered to replace the housings because officials didn’t like the way they were skewed and not perpendicular with the rest of the car.
Keselowski’s team replaced the parts and got him to the starting grid with just a few minutes before the start of the race. Logano’s team was pushing his car to the grid as the field was pulling off pit road.
It got worse for Penske Racing on Wednesday when NASCAR imposed a 25-point penalty for both drivers, as well as $100,000 fines and six-race suspensions for both crew chiefs – Paul Wolfe for Keselowski’s car and Todd Gordon on Logano’s.
According to The Associated Press, NASCAR likely got a tip to check the Penske cars before the race. Keselowski’s car was parked next to Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet, while Logano’s car was parked next to Jeff Gordon’s.
Johnson and Gordon both drive at Hendrick Motorsports.
The inspection and garage area policing processes at the race track not only lends itself to teams telling on each other, it encourages it.
Measurements are done in the open. Many tracks allow race fans to observe the entire inspection process – a lot of it with engine and suspension components exposed.
Post-race inspections are done in the open garage. Engines parts are removed and placed on tables where everyone can watch. No matter how much a team tries to protect their intellectual property, NASCAR makes sure it’s available for everyone to see.
It’s another reason why teams are parked next to each other in the garage, often separated by no more than 5 feet.
Moreover, teams aren’t allowed to hide rear spoilers or engines with covers.
Adding to the problem of keeping secrets is the fact most teams are located within 25 miles of each other in and around Charlotte, N.C.
That creates social situations where crewmen from different teams share notes.
That’s what happened to Ricky Rudd in 1995 when NASCAR officials found a hydraulic lift in his rear deck lid at Talladega Superspeedway. The lift presumably would allow Rudd to pump the rear up the portion of the car so it would pass post-race inspection.
NASCAR inspectors were told in advance and were waiting on Rudd’s car to be unloaded.
Keselowski said the targeted pre-race inspection wasn’t random and was a continuation of week-long issues between his team and NASCAR.
“The way we’ve been treated over the last seven days is absolute shameful,” he told reporters after finishing ninth. “I feel like we’ve been targeted over the last seven days more than I’ve ever seen a team targeted in my life. (It’s) absolute bull (expletive) that’s been the last seven days in this garage area. The things that I’ve seen over the last seven days have me questioning everything I believe in.”
NASCAR chairman Brian France said Monday Keselowski wouldn’t be fined for his comments. His team, however, didn’t escape NASCAR’s wrath.
All with the help of the watchful eye of everyone else in the garage area.