Joe Gibbs Racing executive says team was off on measurements that caused Denny Hamlin’s penalties (video)

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Jimmy Makar, senior vice president of racing operations at Joe Gibbs Racing, said “circumstances that are out of your control” from pushing the limits of the rules contributed to both of Denny Hamlin‘s winning cars at Darlington failing inspection, resulting in encumbered finishes and suspended crew chiefs.

Mike Wheeler, crew chief for Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota in the Cup Series, and his Xfinity crew chief Eric Phillips, both were suspended two races because of an L1 penalty for violating section 20.14.2 (rear suspension) of the NASCAR Rule Book.

On SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint,” Makar attributed the violations in tolerances to the wear-and-tear of Darlington Raceway and the way NASCAR inspects cars at its R&D Center compared with immediately after a race.

“We’ve been back to the tech center with the race cars multiple times this year and been checked for these same rear suspension measurements they’re doing that we were found to be out of tolerance on (after Darlington),” Makar said, indicating the cars previously had passed those inspections.

“This measurement that they’re using back at the tech center is new this year the way they’re doing it. … They check it at the racetrack a little differently. And we were fine in prerace and postrace on the measurements they take there.

“The problem became when they came back to the tech center, and they measured it in a different way is where we got into the discrepancy on the amount of tolerance.”

Makar said the distinction is important because “it’s a little different than just having an illegal part or something like that that just blatantly you try to get by with. That’s kind of black and white, and nobody wants to get involved in that kind of mess. This kind of situation is more of a tolerance, a measurement that they measure at the racetrack.”

A team’s goal, Makar said, is to find the limits of those measurements. “You know you want to take advantage of every opportunity you can to make your race car faster and give your driver all the advantages they can have,” he said. “There is a line there you don’t want to cross, but as long as you’re dancing on that line, you have circumstances that are out of your control sometimes that cause a problem.”

After the Southern 500, NASCAR took the cars of Hamlin, second-place finisher Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon back to the R&D Center for a more thorough inspection. The penalties were announced Wednesday.

Cars run close to the wall at Darlington, and Makar said the team probably hadn’t built in enough of a cushion for parts that bent because of the frequent contact.

“You hit the wall several times during the course of the race with the right rear,” Makar said. “Things get bent. Things move. I think all those things added up to this couple thousandths of tolerance that we were out. It’s not an excuse, but as we look back at it, we did leave ourselves enough room for those things to happen. … Even if you were going to be a little bit inside the (tolerances), you still don’t know if hitting (the) wall one time is one time too many.”

JGR already has announced it won’t appeal the penalties, which means Wheeler will miss this weekend’s regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway and the postseason opener next week at Chicagoland Speedway.

Makar said NASCAR ideally should conclude the inspection process immediately after the race.

“Within an hour or two or a couple of hours after the end of the race, so we know there’s been a problem or not,” Makar said. “That’s not in our hands. NASCAR has got to figure out how to do that. It’s not an easy thing.”

Though JGR accepted the penalties, Makar said a more widespread inspection could have yielded more cars that were out of bounds.

“This is my opinion and my opinion only, but I think you could’ve taken every car that finished that race this weekend and found most of them have a little bit of the same problem,” Makar said. “It’s just what it is. But that’s not the way they inspect after a race.”

Xfinity playoff grid after Indianapolis

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Chase Briscoe‘s continued dominance of the Xfinity Series over the weekend on the Indianapolis road course ensured no additional drivers locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Through 13 races, Briscoe and four other drivers have qualified for the playoffs via race wins. Briscoe, who has five race wins, leads the field with 28 playoff points.

The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Riley Herbst (+19 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+6 points).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-6), Alex Labbe (-32), Jeremy Clements (-49) and Josh Williams (-57).

Cup Series playoff grid after Brickyard 400

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With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.

But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.

After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.

Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.

After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.

With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Oval or road course? Cup drivers address future of Brickyard 400

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For 27 years, the Cup Series has competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its annual Brickyard 400. All 27 of those races have been run exclusively on the track’s traditional 2.5-mile oval.

But following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the track’s 2.4-mile, 14-turn road course, an obvious question has been raised:

Should the Brickyard 400 remain on the oval, where passing is made difficult due to a combination of the rules package and the design of the track, or should moving it to the road course be considered?

“I would never vote for that,” Kevin Harvick declared last week before he won his third Brickyard 400 on Sunday. “I love everything about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For me it is all about the oval … racing on the traditional track because for me I am kind of old school and I think that the Cup cars belong and really started the Brickyard 400.

“That was kind of what it was always meant to be, that iconic one-off, just the Cup cars event. I think with the Xfinity cars and the trucks and (ARCA Menards) cars and all the things that used to race at IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park), it was a great event. Hopefully the road course can kind of take that role that IRP used to have and be able to bring the Indy cars and NASCAR together to add to that event at the Speedway. For me personally, I would never vote for the Cup cars to not run on the oval.”

Harvick is joined in that camp by his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Aric Almirola, who finished third in Sunday’s race for his first top five and top-10 finish at Indy.

“I hope that we never stop running the oval,” Almirola said. “I just think it’s one of these places that regardless if it puts on the greatest race or not, it’s historic. It’s just a special place. It’s hard to explain when you don’t grow up a racer and you don’t aspire to come to race at Indy.

“But for me, I grew up watching stock car racing and dirt sprint car racing. I grew up watching Thursday Night Thunder, seeing so many guys go from USAC racing and sprint car racing to racing at Indy. It’s something I’ve always kept up with, always dreamed about getting the opportunity to race here. I get that opportunity now.”

Matt Kenseth, who finished second Sunday in his 20th Brickyard 400, said the Cup Series “should be” on the oval. But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is open to the idea of Cup using the road course in some manner.

 “I think it’s one of those racetracks that we need to race at as long as we can,” Kenseth said of the oval. “It’s arguably the most famous speedway in the world, or one of them.

“To be able to race on the ovals with the Cup cars, which is the highest form of stock car racing here, we should be on the big track as well. I don’t think it would be bad to maybe test the road course and look into it, maybe do a second race on a road course, kind of like the IndyCars did this week.

“I really do think the Brickyard 400 has a lot of prestige. It’s not a southern race, but similar to the Southern 500, races like that. I think there’s a few of those races you sure would hate to see disappear.”

Crew chief describes ‘frightening’ scene on pit road at Indy

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Crew chief Todd Gordon said it was “frightening” to see rear tire changer Zach Price hit on pit road and then try to scoot away from cars during Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Price, who changes tires for Ryan Blaney’s team, was injured when he was struck by Brennan Poole’s car during a melee near the entrance of pit road early in the race.

Gordon, speaking Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said indications are that Price’s injury was a “fracture someplace in the knee area.”

Price was treated and released from an Indianapolis hospital on Sunday night and traveled home with the team. Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Price was scheduled to see a doctor Monday.

“Just hope to get him back and get him back going again and healthy,” Gordon said.

Gordon described what he saw as cars made contact.

“A really frightening moment for me,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I was really terrorized when I saw (Price) drag himself back across the pit box arms only for a while there. As the situation kind of progressed and the medical staff was working with him, I could see in his face he was better off than I thought he was to start with.

“Fortunate that the guys got up and got at least in the air. The jackman (Graham Stoddard) got on top of the car. Just one of those terrible situations. I felt like those accidents happened mid-pit road. That’s why I picked way back there to be behind it.”

Said Justin Allgaier, who was involved in the accident on pit road that led to six cars eventually being eliminated:  “The No. 15 (Poole) actually got in the back of me. I didn’t know if I got the gentleman on (Blaney’s pit crew) or not. Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled-up there, one car after another were getting run into.”

Indianapolis’ pit road is the most narrow of all the tracks the Cup Series races. The two travel lanes are 24 feet wide. The pit stall for each team is 15 feet wide.