NASCAR says Gibbs’ sandbagging strategy was legal at Talladega; didn’t violate 100 percent rule

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A NASCAR official affirmed Monday morning that Joe Gibbs Racing didn’t violate the “100 percent rule” by electing to run at the back of the pack Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Because they didn’t need strong finishes to advance to the Round of 8, the Toyotas of Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth dropped to the rear at the start of the Hellmann’s 500 and remained there for most of 500 miles. Kenseth finished 28th, Edwards 29th, Busch 30th.

The NASCAR rulebook requires drivers “to race at 100 percent of their ability,” but NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said the JGR cars didn’t run afoul of the law because they pursued a strategy.

“I’d say they do not fall into (the 100 percent rule),” O’Donnell said Monday during his weekly appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Satellite Radio’s The Morning Drive. “The spirit of that rule is really to prevent somebody from intentionally allowing another teammate to do something that would not be in the spirit of the rules of the race.

“In this case, we look at that as a strategy decision that the team made. They executed it. It’s obviously part of the format. It’s a decision that they made during the race. But in this case, that wouldn’t be something that we look at that violates that rule.”

Busch playfully defended the strategy Monday morning on Twitter.

NASCAR created the 100 percent rule after Michael Waltrip Racing was punished for manipulating the 2013 regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway. Here’s the rule:

           7.5 PERFORMANCE OBLIGATION .a NASCAR requires its Competitor(s) to race at 100 percent of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in the Event; .b Any Competitor(s) who takes action with the intent to Artificially Alter the finishing positions of the Event or encourages, persuades or induces others to Artificially Alter the finishing positions of the Event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR, as specified in Section 12 Violations and Disciplinary Action; .c “Artificially Alter” shall be defined as actions by any Competitor(s) that show or suggest that the Competitor(s) did not race at 100 percent of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the Event, in NASCAR’s sole discretion.

O’Donnell also said JGR cars likely wouldn’t face further penalties for being pulled out of qualifying Saturday and returned to inspection.

“I would doubt it,” he said of further penalties. “I think our reaction there is the penalty is the 5-minute line. If we find something and the car has to go back through inspection, we feel that’s severe enough. If the team wasn’t able to fix that part or piece and was not able to qualify, that’s the penalty.