Ryan Newman’s team hammered for illegal modifications to tires; crew chief Luke Lambert suspended six races

11 Comments

Ryan Newman’s No. 31 Chevrolet team was dealt a severe punishment Tuesday after NASCAR found illegal modifications to the tires used by the team March 22 at Auto Club Speedway.

Deemed a P5 penalty (the second stiffest in NASCAR’s rulebook), Ryan Newman was penalized 75 points, and car owner Richard Childress docked 75 points. Crew chief Luke Lambert was fined $125,000, suspended from six Sprint Cup races and placed on probation through Dec. 31.

NASCAR also suspended tire technician James Bender and engineer Philip Surgen for six races and placed them on probation through Dec. 31. The suspensions include all races through the Coca-Cola 600.

“NASCAR takes very seriously its responsibility to govern and regulate the rules of the sport in order to ensure competitive balance,” NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said in a statement. “We’ve been very clear that any modifications to race vehicle tires is an unacceptable practice and will not be tolerated.”

In a statement, Richard Childress Racing president Torrey Galida said Newman’s team would mull its options.

“We understand the seriousness of the penalty,” Galida said. “In fact, RCR has been one of the most outspoken opponents against ‘tire bleeding’ since the rumors began to surface last season. Once NASCAR provides us with the specific details of the infraction we will conduct a further internal investigation, and evaluate our options for an appeal.”

If Childress were to appeal the penalty, Lambert and the suspended crew members likely would be allowed to continue working at the track during the process of having the case heard by a review panel.

NASCAR also seized the tires of Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Paul Menard, Newman’s RCR teammate, after the race in Fontana, Calif. The tires were shipped to an independent laboratory for review, and the tires of Harvick, Busch and Menard were cleared.

NASCAR also seized the tires of Joey Logano, A.J. Allmendinger, Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth after Martinsville and confirmed Tuesday that those tires were cleared.

After qualifying second for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Newman shrugged off being one of the teams being evaluated.

“In my educational career, I’ve been called to the principal’s office a few times, and a few times let go for whatever, so from my standpoint, it’s just a matter of them doing their job, whether you’re guilty or not guilty, it’s their job of keeping the sport at a level playing field,” he said. “We’ll see what comes of it. I’m not worried about anything”

NASCAR didn’t clarify what Newman’s team had done to the tires, but the scuttlebutt last weekend in the Sprint Cup garage centered on “bleeding the tires,” or poking tiny holes to maintain an optimum level of pressure and prevent a dropoff in speed.

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon, whose team was involved in a tire controversy in 1998 in which its tires independently were checked and cleared, said Friday that tire tampering was “definitely being done.” Rodney Childers, crew chief for Harvick, adamantly denied that his team was committing any wrongdoing after its tires were seized following the races at Phoenix International Raceway and Fontana.

After finishing second to Harvick in the 2014 points standings (and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway), Newman was off to a strong start this season. He was ranked sixth in points through six races with four top 10s, including three consecutive top fives at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway.

If the 75-point deduction is upheld, he will drop to 27th in the standings.

Here’s how NASCAR described Newman’s penalty in a release:

        These infractions amount to a P5 level penalty and violate the following Sections in the 2015 NASCAR rule book: 12.1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing

20.16: Wheels and tires

Any device, modification, or procedure to the tire or wheel, including the valve stem hardware, that is used to release pressure, beyond normal pressure adjustments, from the tire and/or inner shield, will not be permitted.

20.16.2:Tires

Modifications to the tires, by treatment or any other means, will not be permitted.

Section 12.5.3.5.1 lists P5 Penalty Violation examples that could include but are not limited to:

A. Effecting, modifying and/or altering the standard tires in any way, other than through authorized means such as tire pressure adjustments within the recommended range, permitted tire cooling when mounted on the race vehicle; or heat-cycling on the race vehicle on the race track earlier in the event.