The Nationwide Series team that had two cars involved in the horrific multi-car wreck during Saturday’s Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona — including Kyle Larson’s car, which vaulted off another car and into the catch fence, showering parts into the stands and injuring at least 28 — had its No. 34 car clear postrace inspection on Tuesday.
Principals from Turner Scott Motorsports met with the heads of NASCAR on Tuesday to discuss Larson’s car as well as Danica Patrick’s, which sources told FOXSports.com was discovered to have modifications to the car’s chassis during inspection at Daytona International Speedway. Patrick was competing as a Turner Scott teammate to Larson and was not involved in the wreck.
Tuesday afternoon, NASCAR communications director Kerry Tharp said that the No. 34 Chevrolet had passed inspection at the R&D Center. He believes the No. 32 Chevrolet is still in Daytona. Tharp added that it’s normal for team members to accompany the car for inspections.
NASCAR says it brought Patrick’s No. 34 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet back to its Research and Development Center for further inspection as part of its normal postrace procedure. Patrick completed 31 laps in Saturday’s Nationwide race and led five circuits before her engine expired and she was forced to the garage. This is not the same car that Patrick competed in with her Stewart-Haas Racing team in Sunday’s Daytona 500, in which she earned a record eighth-place finish.
Two of Turner Scott Motorsports’ three additional entries – those of Justin Allgaier and Larson – were involved in that wreck and photographic evidence suggests the team’s fourth entry, the No. 30 of Nelson Piquet Jr., was also involved but that vehicle is not in NASCAR’s official incident report.
The alleged modification to the No. 34 Chevy was described by a garage source as “squaring off the trailing edge of the frame rails” to decrease drag from the car and provide an aerodynamic advantage to the rear of the car. Three counts of drag is equal to one-tenth of a second on the racetrack. It remains uncertain whether any similar alterations were made to the other three cars.
One car builder said under anonymity, “Air will get off of a sharp edge better than it will a rounded edge, but it’s not worth the risk.”
NASCAR has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to any change on a certified chassis. With the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow in 2007, the sanctioning body began requiring Sprint Cup teams to certify every chassis that competes in a race. When the COT was introduced in the Nationwide Series in 2010, that tour fell under the same rule. When a car is involved in a major wreck, the chassis must be re-certified before competition.
Following last August’s Michigan race, the No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Sprint Cup team violated Section 12-K “race equipment that has been previously certified or previously approved by NASCAR for use in an event, pursuant to sub-section 8-12, has been altered, modified, repaired or changed in any manner. Intentionally modifying frame rails for the purpose of deceiving NASCAR’s inspection gauges.”
The 2013 Nationwide Series Rulebook states in Section 8-12 Certification, “Once Race Equipment has been certified by NASCAR as being in compliance with the NASCAR Rules, it must not be altered. Modified, repaired or changed in any manner, INCLUDING CHANGE OF OWNERSHIP OR SERIES without prior notification to and approval by NASCAR.”
Section 12-K of the NNS Rulebook states that “if, in the judgment of NASCAR Officials, Race Equipment that has been previously certified or previously approved and/or sealed by NASCAR for use in an Event, pursuant to sub-section 8-6 and/or 8-12, has been altered, modified, repaired, or changed in any manner: a fine and/or disqualification and/or loss of a minimum of 25 Championship Driver and/or Car Owner points and/or loss of the opportunity to qualify, and/or loss of a pre-determined starting position in the Event, and/or loss of a provisional starting position in the Event, and/or confiscation of Race Equipment, and/or probation, and/or suspension of any NASCAR Member(s) may be assessed."
While there is no minimum monetary fine listed in the NNS Rulebook, the Sprint Cup Rulebook mentions a minimum fine of $100,000. When the No. 27 team was caught last year, in addition to the team being penalized 25 points for the infraction, crew chief Slugger Labbe was fined $100,000 and suspended for six weeks. Car chief Craig Smokestad and crew member Grant Hutchens were also sidelined for six weeks in conjunction with the offense. All three remained on probation for the remainder of the season.
With regards to the Saturday crash, Rick Hendrick, who supplies engines for the team, addressed Larson’s car on Monday.
“What happened to the chassis? There might be something else that we might have to do there to prevent that from happening again,” he said. “I’ve never seen that happen before, and I’ve seen some pretty hard shots.”
NASCAR officials are studying the event as well. Steve O’Donnell, senior vice president of racing operations, said that Larson’s car will be studied at the R&D Center in Concord, NC.
“We’ll look at every piece,” he said. “What came off, what didn’t. What held. We’ll review the film of where it hit and just look at what, if anything, every aspect of that car will be looked at.”
Roger Penske witnessed the accident from the spotter’s stand and had a similar take.
“It was something,” Penske said. “These guys are going to block. Brad (Keselowski) had a great car, both cars were good. We thought he had a real good chance, but at the end of the day the big thing is it looks like the people in the stands are going to be fine, the drivers are fine, let’s move on.”
Penske, a former racer who is the current championship team owner in the Sprint Cup Series and has won multiple titles and Indianapolis 500s, was extremely complimentary of the safety enhancements in the sport.
“I would say the priority of NASCAR – and all the sanctioning bodies over the last several years — has been safety,” Penske said. “Speed is one thing. The drivers, obviously, have been receptive to the soft walls, the HANS devices. When you look at the sturdiness of the fencing and the things that we saw (on Saturday), there’s been a big, big effort to upgrade all of these safety fences. I think they’ve done a good job. Unfortunately, you can’t predict and do a simulation of some of the things that happened (on Saturday). From my perspective, we’ll learn from that and as we designed new tracks and as they do more modifications, we’ll continue to build more safety into the tracks. Overall, at the end of the day we cross our fingers and hope everybody is fine.”