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.”