NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR drivers embrace recent rule enforcement, support penalties

October 24

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NASCAR rarely suspends a driver for an on-track incident. It rarely penalizes a team for race manipulation.

It has done both those things the past two weeks. The message: Don’t mess with the playoffs, and don’t do anything wickedly dangerous.

Have teams and drivers gotten that message? NASCAR likely will find out in the next two weeks.

The elimination race to determine the four drivers who will vie for the championship is Sunday at the shortest track on the circuit, the 0.526-mile Martinsville Speedway. The champion will then be crowned Nov. 6 at the one-mile Phoenix Raceway.

NASCAR officials hope they don’t have any more of the issues that forced their hand this month. But the playoffs are designed for drama, and with that comes policing the sport.

William Byron on the Bubba Wallace penalty

William Byron says the penalty issued to Bubba Wallace shows where NASCAR stands when it comes to retaliation.

Before NASCAR even gets to Martinsville, its appeals panel will hear an appeal of a penalty issued to Stewart-Haas Racing for manipulating the finish Oct. 9 at the Charlotte road course. NASCAR says Cole Custer was directed to slow down to help teammate Chase Briscoe earn points (points he ended up not needing to advance to this round).

"I think they kind of jumped the gun a little bit," team co-owner Gene Haas said of the penalty. "Obviously, they don’t want people fixing races, but when someone says, ‘I think you may have a flat,’ [as Custer’s crew chief did] doesn’t seem quite exactly a code word.

"You hear that all the time. Cole is pretty adamant there wasn’t anything going on. I think this was just some circumstances that they interpreted in their own light."

Also before the NASCAR Cup Series races at Martinsville, Bubba Wallace will return to the track for practice and qualifying following a one-race suspension for intentionally wrecking Kyle Larson in retaliation Oct. 16 at Las Vegas. NASCAR said the wreck crossed the line when it comes to dangerous acts on the racetrack.

Wallace and 23XI Racing accepted the penalty. There wasn’t much argument from them, and the conversation around the Wallace penalty was about whether NASCAR had been more lenient in previous instances that should've resulted in suspension.

"They drew a very good line," said Denny Hamlin, co-owner of 23XI Racing and a driver for Joe Gibbs Racing. "They did the right thing. 

"It’s can we be more consistent with that for the future, and what is the determining factor of crossing that line? ... The speeds, the type of track we were at [at Las Vegas] was a big factor in the penalty."

Denny Hamlin says NASCAR did the right thing

Denny Hamlin says NASCAR did the right thing in drawing the line on retaliation.

While the heat of the moment might cloud their judgment at high speeds, drivers seemed to support NASCAR establishing and enforcing the rules.

"I personally think it is good that NASCAR is putting the law down, the hammer down on things that they think are wrong and that they want to act," Ryan Blaney said. "That is the only way you can kind of police it. You have to do those things.

"At the end of the day, it is their call. If they see something that they don't like, I expect them to act on it, and they have the last couple of weeks. It doesn't change the approach of the way I do anything. In my mind, you never think about, ‘If I do something malicious with intent, or something like that, that you can get away with it.’"

Ryan Blaney on recent penalties handed down by NASCAR

Ryan Blaney says he thinks it's good that NASCAR has brought the hammer down on actions it views as wrong.

Former Cup champion Joey Logano said drivers know right from wrong at high speeds — or they eventually learn.

"Sports tests your morals and tests your character a lot of times," he said. "Sometimes it is tough to balance all that in the heat of the moment. ... You sometimes make decisions that you’re not proud of later on, but you learn lessons every time.

"I’ve made mistakes and made dumb decisions inside race cars that I regret. But I’ve learned from every one of them, and I feel like I know where my line is now."

Joey Logano on the messages NASCAR has sent

Joey Logano says NASCAR has sent messages the past couple of weeks about where the line is as far as drivers' conduct.

The line can vary with the driver and the team regarding how far they would go to help a teammate or to show their displeasure with the way they have been raced.

"It hasn’t changed anything in the way I think and the way I do things because in my opinion, both of those moves were extremely, extremely dumb," Trackhouse driver Daniel Suarez said. "Both of them, I was going to be extremely surprised if there were not penalties.

"Before even those situations happened, I would never do something like that. Not that clear. You have to be smarter. I don’t know what those guys were thinking."

Suarez said he was glad NASCAR "put everyone in their places because it was too much." However, that doesn’t mean he won’t give his teammate, Ross Chastain, some extra room as Chastain tries to advance to the championship round.

"I’m going to race Ross not super hard," Suarez acknowledged. "He’s my teammate, and I know what is ahead of him. ... I would never give up a win to help him. But my level of aggression to my teammate right now is going to be a little bit lower.

"But I’m never going to brake to give up a position. I know the consequences of that. That’s not professional. The same thing — wrecking somebody the way it happened [at Vegas] — is not smart."

Chase Briscoe on penalties for retaliation

Chase Briscoe believes that NASCAR's penalties on retaliation need to be severe.

The drivers were relatively united in their view of Wallace’s actions.

"Intentionally hooking people in the [right rear] should never be acceptable," Kevin Harvick tweeted after the Wallace penalty was announced. "Protect us from ourselves. I hope this is the beginning of the end of it happening."

Drivers obviously can stop that from happening themselves. They’re the ones with the steering wheels and the ones who control the brake pedals.

"You just hope that you're not in those situations," Larson said. "NASCAR’s had a rough go of it here lately ... and hopefully we can get the momentum shifted to NASCAR’s side a little bit."

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Thinking out loud

While the focus is on the playoffs this time of year, the team quietly showing signs of improvement for 2023 is Kaulig Racing.

AJ Allmendinger finished ninth a week ago at Las Vegas and then was third at Homestead, signaling that he could be a factor next season when he goes full-time Cup racing. Those weren’t fluke finishes for Allmendinger and the Kaulig team.

Everyone knows Allmendinger will be a threat on road courses. But for him to show this strength on the intermediate ovals is impressive.

His teammate, Justin Haley, saw a string of seven top-20 finishes snap at Homestead, but he is showing progress as well.

Social spotlight

Stat of the day

Brad Keselowski earned his first top-5 finish of the season with a fifth place at Homestead.

They said it

"Amazing race car." — Kyle Larson after his Homestead win

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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