NASCAR issued an unprecedented penalty Tuesday to Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31 Sprint Cup team and driver Ryan Newman after determining the team had altered tires used in a race March 22 in Fontana, Calif.
Newman was docked 75 driver points and Richard Childress 75 owner points. The penalty dropped Newman from sixth to 27th in the series standings.
Crew chief Luke Lambert was fined $125,000 and suspended from the next six Cup races plus any nonpoints races during that span, which includes the Sprint Showdown and All-Star races. He was also placed on probation through Dec. 31.
James Bender, the team’s tire technician, and Philip Surgen, a team engineer, were given the same penalties as Lambert.
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“NASCAR takes very seriously its responsibility to govern and regulate the rules of the sport in order to ensure competitive balance,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer.
“We’ve been very clear that any modifications to race vehicle tires is an unacceptable practice and will not be tolerated.”
NASCAR officials had been confiscating tires from several teams over the past three weeks and sent those taken from the No. 31 following the California race to a third party for further analysis, sources confirmed to the Observer.
While NASCAR did not say specifically what RCR did to the tires, Cup series director Richard Buck said last weekend that officials had seen the “noise level” rise in the garage area over the past several weeks about teams “bleeding” tires, or reducing air pressure over the course of a run.
In theory, reduced air pressure would help maintain or increase grip on the track.
As recently as Friday morning, Buck reminded series’ crew chiefs of the severity of the penalties if a team were caught altering tires.
Fox TV analyst and former crew chief Larry McReynolds said it wasn’t a surprise NASCAR came down hard on the No. 31 team.
“I’ve been in this sport 35 years, and the law of the land has been in place that entire time; the three major items you don’t tamper with are the engine, the fuel and the tires,” he said. “Go back prior to a couple of years ago, and anybody tampering with the tires usually was using a substance to soften the compound and give the tires more grip.
“Sometimes we take for granted that the four tires are the only things connecting a 3,200-pound car to the track. NASCAR doesn’t take kindly to anything that might alter and put in jeopardy the integrity of the tire.”
In a statement, RCR President Torrey Galida said his organization would conduct an internal investigation and evaluate its options for an appeal.
“We understand the seriousness of the penalty,” he said. “In fact, RCR has been one of the most outspoken opponents against tire bleeding since the rumors began to surface last season.”