NASCAR fined car owners Jay Robinson (Premium Motorsports), Rick Ware (Rick Ware Racing) and TJ Puchyr (Spire Motorsports) $50,000 each, along with other penalties to their teams, for manipulating the outcome of the Cup season finale in Miami.
The scheme was set up to help one of Robinson’s teams finish the highest among unchartered teams and collect the largest postseason bonus for that group.
“Following a thorough review of race data and driver/team communication from the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as well as interviews with several competitors, NASCAR has determined that the Nos. 15, 27, 52 and 77 teams have violated Sections 12.8.g and 12.8.1 of the NASCAR rule book, which addresses manipulating the outcome of a race,” Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, in a statement. “As a result, those teams in violation of the rule book have been penalized as listed in the penalty report.”
Section 12.8.g of the Cup Rule Book states: In extraordinary circumstances, NASCAR may take whatever action it deems necessary to mitigate and/or rectify circumstances created by a Member’s actions including, but not limited to, negating the results of a driver’s performance and/or advancing a driver in the standings or The Playoffs.
Section 12.8.1.c of the Cup Rule Book states:
Member actions that could result in a loss of 25-50 driver and Team Owner Points and/or $50,000-$100,000 fine and/or one Race suspension, indefinite suspension, or termination:
Physical confrontation with a NASCAR Official, media members, fans, etc.
Member-to-Member confrontation(s) with physical violence and other violent manifestations such as significant threat(s) and/or abuse and/or endangerment.
Attempting to manipulate the outcome of the Race or championship.
Intentionally wrecking another vehicle, whether or not that vehicle is removed from Competition as a result.
Each team penalized had cars fall out of the race to ensure that Premium Motorsports’ No. 27 car gained positions and finished with the most points for the season among unchartered teams and earn the largest bonus. The difference in bonus money from first to second for unchartered teams is about $175,000.
Premium Motorsports’ No. 27 car finished one point ahead of Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 car among the unchartered cars in the owners standings. Wednesday’s penalties made Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 the highest unchartered team in the car owner standings.
Here’s how the Miami race was impacted:
Joe Nemechek, driving the No. 15 car for Premium Motorsports, finished 38th. He completed 227 of the 267 laps. The reason listed for not finishing was steering.
Reed Sorenson, driving the No. 77 car for Spire Motorsports, finished 37th. He completed 236 laps. The reason listed for not finishing was brakes.
Josh Bilicki, driving the No. 52 car for Rick Ware Racing, finished 36th. He completed 240 laps. The reason listed for not finishing was brakes.
Ross Chastain, driving the No. 27 car, finished 35th, the last car running at the end. He completed 242 of 267 laps.
NASCAR also issued the following penalties related to this infraction:
Docked the No. 15 car of Premium Motorsports 50 team owner points, fined competition director Scott Eggleston $25,000 and suspended him indefinitely.
Penalized the No. 27 car of Premium Motorsports 50 team owner points.
Docked the No. 52 car of Rick Ware Racing 50 team owner points, fined competition director Kenneth Evans $25,000 and suspended him indefinitely.
Penalized the No. 77 team 50 team owner points and fined competition director Scott Eggleston $25,000 on top of the fine he received for his position with the No. 15 car.
Around this time last year, JD Motorsports owner Johnny Davis approached Xfinity driver Ross Chastain with a proposition to compete in his first Cup race.
Chastain did everything but jump at the chance.
Davis and two team executives for JD Motorsports told Chastain that they needed him to run the June race at Dover International Speedway for “a lot of different reasons that I really didn’t grasp at the time,” Chastain said.
Davis and his team had secured enough sponsorship money through Chastain’s connections in the watermelon industry and the Delaware Office of Highway Safety for the weekend to make it possible.
“The budget was big enough that we needed to share it and give Ross the opportunity to drive a Cup car,” Davis told NBC Sports. “When you run those races in conjunction, it just makes you a better driver each and every day you make more laps.”
Chastain, who was competing in his third full-time season in the Xfinity Series for Davis, was taken aback.
“I’m not ready,” Chastain told Davis.
Even with 83 Xfinity starts and 50 Truck Series starts prior to the Dover race weekend in June, Chastain “just didn’t think as a driver I would do a very good job in it.”
But Davis believed the Florida native “was ready” for the move.
“He needed to take that plunge and go on and do it,'” Davis says. “He’s a good kid. Some of these kids come in with a little bit of money, they drive over their head trying to prove how great they are and they crash stuff and they’re gone in a year or two. Ross don’t do that.”
Davis didn’t back down after his driver’s initial rejection. He called Chastain the next morning.
“Hey, I’m not letting this go,” Chastain recalls Davis saying. “We need you to wrap your head around this. This is what we need to do and this will help all of us.”
Finally, Chastain bought in. He was soon singing a different tune.
The Monday before the 2017 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Chastain was excited.
Now he was locked in to drive in his third race for Premium.
“I was here at the (Premium) shop and then come Wednesday it fell through,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “That was kind of tough. Not knowing when I would get another shot in it. …. Then I go through the whole offseason focusing on Xfinity. That was really all I knew I had.”
Fate might have smiled on Chastain that weekend. He overcame flu-like symptoms the day of the Xfinity race to finish 17th.
“Saturday night, it was rough,” Chastain says. “I didn’t sleep at all and woke up Sunday morning even worse. Probably could have made it Sunday, but probably a good thing I didn’t have to find out.”
Like most other drivers, Chastain had to wait until February for his next shot in a Cup car. But it wouldn’t be in the Daytona 500.
With Premium Motorsports wrapped up in Danica Patrick’s final Cup start, Chastain didn’t get a chance to talk to team owner Jay Robinson until the day after the 500, two days after he finished ninth in the Xfinity race. They soon agreed to partner again.
“He did caution me not to think it was all year,” Chastain says, later adding “It’s just snowballed in a good way.”
DOING A LOT WITH LITTLE
Things have slowed down for Chastain behind the wheel, at least on Saturdays.
Chastain is five races into his current stent driving the No. 15 Chevrolet for Premium.
And those five races have had an impact on how the 25-year-old driver handles his No. 4 Chevrolet at JD Motorsports.
Through five Xfinity races this season, Chastain hasn’t finished worse than 19th. At this point last year, he had never finished better than 16th.
“When it’s all happening, I don’t feel like I’m going 180 mph, I feel like I’m going 140 or a little bit slower,” Chastain says. “It just makes it to where I can be a little more in control and feel the car a little bit better. It all sounds a little silly when you haven’t done it, I’m sure. When you’re out there, it kind of slows it down for you. Then you can just get more out of the car.”
He got a lot out of it two weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway when he finished 10th. His ninth career Xfinity top 10 and fifth at a non-restrictor plate track came after some late-race drama on pit road. With Chastain running near the front, Davis decided to buy their last set of tires.
“So they got them back and got the lug nuts glued up, but they need time to dry,” Chastain says. “When they went to put the right front wheel on, all the lug nuts fell off, cause the glue wasn’t dry.”
Chastain lost spots during the green-flag stop.
“It wasn’t anybody’s fault, we were running good enough,” Chastain says. “Johnny made the decision to go buy the last set of tires. It’s comical, but it’s true.”
Chastain is in a unique situation with his double-duty weekends. On Saturdays, he competes for a four-car team that has to budget for tires and buys all of its equipment “new to us” — AKA: used — but is capable of running in the top 10.
Chastain’s Cup duties take him to a two-car team that has one top-10 finish in 177 starts since 2014.
But Chastain is benefiting from resources he’s never had in his career.
“Cup cars have data, so I can compare it when I have a teammate,” Chastain says. “It’s been great to see the different throttle traces, brake traces and pressures we need to do.”
Chastain says Premium, which includes crew chiefs Todd Parrott and Pat Tryson, is the most “sophisticated” team he’s been with when it comes to putting a car together.
But “it’s simpler here than I think it would be at a quote, unquote ‘big team’ where I’ve never worked with an engineer, ever.”
Through five Cup races, Chastain’s best result is 27th at Phoenix.
“We’re beating a handful of cars” Chastain says. “That’s promising I think.”
Chastain’s impressive finish in the Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway left him at 13th in the point standings entering the two-week break.
It’s his best position in the standings at this point in the season since he was 12th his rookie season in 2015.
“We were trying really hard for 12th,” Chastain says.
Twelve drivers will make the playoffs, something Chastain has yet to accomplish.
In the days that followed the California race, the No. 4 team had a competition meeting.
As they discussed all the work ahead of them, mechanic Rick Johnson spoke up.
“I don’t care how much I have to work,” Chastain recalls Johnson saying. “I don’t care what parts and pieces we have, if we can’t buy another car that we think is better, if we’ve got to run the same stuff we have been in a couple of races, I don’t care, I want to make the playoffs. That is all I care about.”
Chastain says Johnson’s declaration “lit a fire under us.”
“Quit worrying about all the little stuff and let’s just go make it happen.”
Chastain knows a top-10 finish won’t be in the cards for his team every week. It will take a lot of 15th-place finishes where the team placed 18th or 19th in the past.
Chastain works hard on “trying not to be the weak link” no matter what team he’s on, and that comes down to how he manages races.
“I don’t believe that anybody can drive the fastest race car and win,” Chastain says. “I think you have to be a good driver at this level. A lot of guys say, ‘Oh no, you can put anybody in Kyle Busch‘s car and win.’ That’s not the case. I’m sorry, you have to be 100 percent all the time, every lap and be able to manage the weekend.”
While he still has a lot wrap his head around on the Cup side, Chastain believes he’s the only driver who could have produced a 10th-place finish in the No. 4 in California.
“Running the Cup car helped, it just made it to where I wasn’t the weak link, where I could get all the car had,” Chastain says. “That is one thing I do believe is that, I might not be the best race car driver, but there is not anybody that can get in that 4 car and do a better job than I do. I will stand by that. The 15 car is not exactly the same case right now. I still have a long way to go in that thing. I’m sure there’s guys that could get in there and do a better job. That’s part of learning and that was the case with the 4 car at the beginning.”
Todd Parrott, who won the 1999 Cup championship as crew chief for Dale Jarrett, has joined Premium Motorsports in the same role, the team announced Tuesday.
Parrott, who has 31 Cup wins, joins a leadership team that includes owner Jay Robinson, Scott Eggleston, Pat Tryson, Tommy Baldwin and Brian Keselowski.
“The addition of Todd Parrott is the culmination of a plan that started a couple of years ago,” Robinson said in a press release. “We wanted to assemble the most experienced professionals available to our team in an effort to stay relevant and competitive. We are very pleased to have Todd join our staff and are looking forward to this season as we continue to build this team.”
Parrott previously served as crew chief for Michael McDowell at Leavine Family Racing.
“I’m excited for my first day here at Premium Motorsports,” Parrott said in a team release. “I’ve been talking to Jay (Robinson) for about a month or so regarding the possibility of coming here to help him with this program. He has quite a few good people here like Pat Tryson, Scott Eggleston, Brian Keselowski and Tommy Baldwin who I actually worked with before. As I walked around the shop this morning I recognized several other people that I’ve worked with in the past as well, so I’m really looking forward to this new and different opportunity for me here. I just can’t wait to get going and get racing.”