NASCAR penalties getting a little clearer

NASCAR took a giant step Tuesday toward removing the perceived veil of secrecy that has lingered over its penalty and appeals processes.

The new penalty structure, which has been dubbed the “Deterrence System,” for the first time publicly defines specific technical offenses and the subsequent penalties a team can expect.

For most of its 65-plus years, NASCAR has issued penalties on a case-by-case basis, where teams violating the same section of rulebook could receive varied punishments based on circumstances.

Beginning this season, NASCAR will issue official warnings to teams for minor infractions and more serious penalties will be classified into six levels – P1 to P6, with P6 being the most severe.

NASCAR will continue to handle behavioral offenses case-by-case.

“Our goal is to be more effective, fair and transparent,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations. “We believe that the system is tailored to fit the needs of the sport, essentially building a firewall between the race teams, their sponsors, and the (manufacturers).

“The new deterrent system is going to provide a clear path for our competitors to fully understand the boundaries while shoring up some gray areas that may have been in existence – again, all in an effort to be as transparent as possible.”

NASCAR’s appeals process also is changing.

Teams appealing a NASCAR penalty will be allowed to see NASCAR’s presentation during the first appeal. Each side previously took its turn in front of the three-member National Motorsports Appeals Panel.

Another change: NASCAR will now have the burden of proving a violation occurred. If the matter is appealed to the Final Appeals Officer, the burden will shift to the team to prove the original panel’s decision was wrong.

NASCAR also announced Bryan Moss, former president at Gulfstream Aerospace, has been named Final Appeals Officer, replacing former General Motors executive John Middlebrook, who most recently served as chief appellate officer.

The changes to the penalty and appeals processes come as NASCAR also undergoes vast changes in its qualifying procedures and how it determines the champion of its Sprint Cup Series, where wins will become paramount to competing for the title and winning it.

O’Donnell said the changes will help NASCAR as its responsibility to administer fair races continues to grow.

“Over the last 18 months going out and talking to the race teams about what we could do or what we could improve, I think one of those things was we sometimes put ourselves in tough spots with penalties not being listed in the rule book, and where did NASCAR come up with this particular penalty,” he said.

“It’s never our intent to have those ‘gotcha’ moments. We don’t want to penalize anyone, but when we have to, we want to be as transparent as possible.”

While NASCAR will adhere to a long-standing tradition of not taking wins from rule violators, under the new system, if P5 or P6 infractions are found on winning teams during postrace inspection, NASCAR can make the wins ineligible to be used to qualify for the Chase or advance through Chase elimination rounds.