Appeals panel reduces Ryan Newman’s points penalty; leaves crew chief Luke Lambert’s suspension intact

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CONCORD, N.C. –The National Motorsports Appeals Panel handed Ryan Newman’s team a minor victory Thursday, amending the points deductions from a penalty for manipulating tires but leaving crew chief Luke Lambert’s six-race suspension intact.

After hearing the team’s appeal for more than six hours, the three-member committee voted to reduce the team’s points penalty from 75 to 50 points and reduce the fine to Lambert from $125,000 to $75,000 fine.

But the penalty still was ruled a P5 violation, which means Lambert’s suspension remains in effect for six races.

Reading from a brief statement at the NASCAR R&D Center, Lambert said, “I’d like to say I’m thankful today to have had the opportunity to present our facts to the appeals panel, and I appreciate their consideration of those facts in making the decision to reduce the fine and reduce the points penalty based on the decision and the facts that were presented. However, I am disappointed in the decision not to completely overturn the penalty based on the facts that were presented today. At this point in time, we’re going to consider our options and discuss as a group what we’re going to do moving forward. I’ll have no further comments.”

Richard Childress issued a statement Thursday night saying that Lambert will begin serving the  suspension (along with engineer Phil Surgen and tire specialist James Bender),  and that Todd Parrott will be Newman’s crew chief this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. Parrott, who won the 1999 Cup championship as the crew chief for Dale Jarrett, is the competition director for Richard Childress Racing’s Xfinity program.

RCR has the right to make a final appeal to Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss. Childress said in his statement that no decision had been made whether to appeal.

The panel, which deliberated for roughly an hour, said it amended the penalty because “there is no written explanation of what constitutes a postrace inspection.” The panel members weren’t available for comment, and NASCAR and RCR wouldn’t comment on its decision, but it seems reasonable to infer the ruling was predicated on the fact that the tires were seized during the Auto Club 400.

A P5 penalty means a loss of 50 driver and owner points and a minimum of a $75,000 fine. If the infraction is detected during postrace, the penalty increases by 50 points and $50,000.

The panel apparently decided because the tires were taken during the race, NASCAR’s rules were vague as to whether a later examination of the tires by a third party constituted a postrace inspection, and thus the postrace penalties were removed.

Thursday’s three-member panel, which is selected from a pool of 34 candidates, consisted of former USAC president John Capels, former Speed Channel executive Hunter Nickell and Dale Pinilis, the longtime promoter at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.

With the points reduction, Newman moves from 24th to 20th in the Sprint Cup points standings.

NASCAR punished the team after determining illegal modifications were made to the No. 31 Chevrolet’s tires during the March 22 race at Auto Club Speedway.

This was the first competition-related appeal to be heard involving a major Sprint Cup team since NASCAR restructured its penalty system before the 2014 season (Kurt Busch lost multiple appeals of his suspension for domestic abuse allegations two months ago). In the last major appeal involving a Sprint Cup championship contender, Joe Gibbs Racing had its punishment significantly lessened for an illegal engine part found in Matt Kenseth’s Toyota after a win at Kansas Speedway. The panel reduced a points penalty to Kenseth by 38 points and cut crew chief Jason Ratcliff’s suspension from six races to one.

There were no appeals heard in the Sprint Cup Series last season.

An appeals panel made minor reductions Tuesday to a penalty to Circle Sport Racing.