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NASCAR penalizes Denny Hamlin, Sprint Cup team

By Jim Utter
jutter@charlotteobserver.com
503122693WS00246_Crown_Roya
Andy Lyons - Getty Images
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 26: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, looks on from the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin got a taste of the consequences of a major violation of NASCAR’s new deterrence system.

NASCAR on Tuesday assessed the Joe Gibbs Racing team a penalty that included docking the driver 75 points and suspending his crew chief Darian Grubb for the next six races.

Grubb also was assessed a $125,000 fine and placed on probation for the remainder of the year. In addition, car chief Wesley Sherrill also was suspended for six races and placed on probation for the remainder of the year. Car owner J.D. Gibbs also was given a 75-point penalty.

Hamlin finished third in Sunday’s Crown Royal 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but after the race NASCAR officials confiscated several rear firewall block-off plates from his No. 11 Toyota.

The block-off plates are intended to keep fluids, smoke and fire from getting to the driver’s compartment. Air flow through the block-off plates, in theory, can provide additional rear downforce, which could help at a track like Indianapolis.

“This should send a message that for anyone who attempts to overstep or bend the rules, it’s not worth it,” said NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp.

“We revised our penalty and appeal processes to make the system more effective, fair and transparent. That was something all of our competitors asked for.”

Shortly after the announcement, JGR issued a brief statement in which it said it planned to appeal the penalties, but Grubb and Sherrill would begin serving their respective suspensions this weekend.

Should JGR not be successful in its appeal, both would return to the track in time for the Sept. 14 race at Chicagoland Speedway, the first event in the Chase.

Even with the points penalty, Hamlin likely isn’t in danger of losing his spot among the 16-driver Chase field. He has a win this season and with the penalty will drop to 21st in the series standings (He needs to be among the top 30 to use his win).

It will be difficult for a team without its regular crew chief and car chief over a six-week period to perform up to par. Hamlin, however, has a strong record – including four wins in 17 Cup starts – at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, site of Sunday’s GoBowling.400.

NASCAR restructured its penalty and appeals process during the offseason. Hamlin’s penalty was classified P5 on a scale that rates penalties from P1 (lowest) to P6 (highest). Because the violations were found after the race, the penalties were enhanced.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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