Jim Roper

How soon before Kentucky Derby-type finish happens (again) in NASCAR?

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While it has occurred before in NASCAR, the winner being disqualified — as happened in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby — will happen again in stock car racing.

NASCAR all but assured that before this season. Series officials announced that they would disqualify the winner if its car failed inspection after the race.

“We’re changing the culture,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, on Feb. 4. “We’ve tried to do it one way, and it hasn’t worked.”

So far, no winner in Cup, Xfinity or the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has failed inspection after the race. 

It’s coming. It’s just a matter of who, when and where.

When it does, the grandstands will be empty … unlike Saturday at Churchill Downs. More than 150,000 fans were in attendance and waited 22 minutes after the Kentucky Derby before stewards disqualified Maximum Security and made runner-up Country House, a 65-1 longshot, the winner. Country House will go for the next leg in the Triple Crown at the Preakness on NBC on Saturday, May 18.

NASCAR officials said before the season that they hoped to have inspection done about 90 minutes after each race. Fans will be on their way home by that time. There won’t be the gasps and groans from the crowd at Churchill Downs when the Kentucky Derby was declared official with a new winner.

History shows that there will be a day (or night) when NASCAR fans will see one car cross the finish line first and another later declared the winner.

It’s in the sport’s DNA.

NASCAR’s first race in 1949 saw the winner disqualified. Records list Jim Roper as the winner but he finished second to Glenn Dunaway at Charlotte. Dunaway was disqualified because his car did not pass inspection afterward.

Eventually, NASCAR decided it was best for fans that if the driver who crossed the finish line first was the winner even if the car failed inspection afterward.

Richard Petty kept his 198th career victory in 1983 at Charlotte despite having an oversized engine and left side tires on the right side of the car. Instead, he was fined a then-record $35,000 (the winner’s purse was $40,400) and stripped 104 points.

In 1991, NASCAR penalized Ricky Rudd for spinning Davey Allison out of the lead just before the final lap at Sonoma Raceway. Rudd crossed the finish line first but was given the black flag. Allison, who came across the line behind Rudd, was given the checkered flag and ruled the winner.

Those are rare instances where NASCAR reacted.

Last year, Kevin Harvick had cars fail inspection after he won at Las Vegas in March and Texas in November. NASCAR disallowed Harvick a berth in the championship race for his Texas violation but allowed him to keep the win (as it allowed him to keep the Las Vegas win).

But the next time a winning vehicle fails inspection in NASCAR, the record books will no longer list that person as the winner. Just as the list of Kentucky Derby winners will have Country House as the 2019 champion instead of Maximum Security.

Friday 5: Is it time for NASCAR to take away wins for violations?

Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images
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NASCAR’s L1 penalty this week all but stripped the Texas win from Kevin Harvick, but years from now he’ll be listed as the victor of that race.

If NASCAR can take away all that goes with the win — that includes taking Harvick’s berth in the championship race in Miami — shouldn’t the sanctioning body take away the win and leave the winner’s spot vacant in the results? And shouldn’t NASCAR remove the win from the driver’s record?

NASCAR’s history started with a disqualification after all.

Glenn Dunnaway won the first NASCAR race on June 19, 1949 at Charlotte but the win was taken away because his car failed inspection after the race. Jim Roper was declared the winner and has been recognized as the first winner of a NASCAR race since — even though he finished three laps behind Dunnaway.

So it makes sense that as NASCAR looks at possibly increasing penalties that the time has come to take away wins.

Before taking away wins, though, consider one thing.

How does one deal with the past? Richard Petty was fined what was a record $35,000 and docked 104 points after his car was found to have an oversized engine and the team used left-side tires on the right side of his car at Charlotte in 1983. The victory was the 198th of his career.

If you’re going to take away Harvick’s win last weekend at Texas (and at Las Vegas early in the season), then what about Petty? Is the NASCAR Hall of Fame going to have to change all the references to Petty’s 200 wins?

2. Chevy looks to avoid repeating last year’s disappointment

Chevrolet has one last chance to put a car in the Cup championship race in Miami or face a second consecutive year without a competitor in the title race.

Chase Elliott is the lone remaining Chevrolet driver in title contention in Cup heading into Sunday’s race at Phoenix (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). He enters outside a transfer spot.

In January, Pat Suhy, Chevrolet’s NASCAR Group Manager, called it “unacceptable” that the manufacturer did not have a car competing for the Cup title last year and said “I expect us to have at least a car or two in the final four this year. There’s no reason we shouldn’t.”

Elliott’s path to Miami was helped by NASCAR’s penalty to Kevin Harvick that leaves three spots in the championship field to be filled Sunday. Elliott trails Harvick by 17 points for the last transfer spot.

The debut season of the Camaro ZL1 has not gone as smoothly for Chevrolet and also came in a season where Hendrick Motorsports, the top Chevy team, struggled for much of the season. The result is that Chevrolet has won four races this year — Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and Chase Elliott won at Watkins Glen, Dover and Kansas.

Chevrolet last had fewer than four wins in 1982 when it scored three victories that season.

3. Heavy fines

With two races left this season, NASCAR has fined Cup teams a total of $850,000 for various infractions. That tops last year’s total of $815,000.

All the money goes to the NASCAR Foundation.

Fines are issued to the crew chief. Stewart-Haas Racing’s crew chiefs and Joe Gibbs Racing’s crew chiefs have each been fined a total of $215,000 this season.

Fines can be as little as $10,000 for not having a lug nut secure after a race to the $75,000 fine crew chief Rodney Childers received this week for the infraction with Kevin Harvick’s car at Texas.

4. New look

With ISM Racing moving its start/finish line to just before the dogleg, drivers anticipate restarts could be wild.

I would imagine that we will cross the start-finish line and be nine-wide going though the dogleg and then try to figure out how to get back to two-wide by the time we get to the new Turn 1,” Aric Almirola said. “That is a really flat, tricky corner. Running much more than two-wide is pretty difficult through there. I am sure it will fan out and get really exciting. I think when it gets down late in the race, the restarts will be really, really intense and chaotic with guys trying to make moves in desperation and trying to make that final round of four.”

Joey Logano says that the new Turn 1 (which was formerly Turn 3) provides another challenge for drivers.

“I can see a lot of cars making those big moves and how Turn (1) has that very inviting apron down there with no grip at all and there are a lot of cars that slide a lot on cold tires there,” he said. “It seems like with low pressure and cold tires that the tires really want to chatter on the race track. Once they start chattering it is hard to stop it. It is like a basketball. You will see a lot of cars slip up. If there is a car on the outside of them it will cause contact for sure. I think it is going to make restarts a lot crazier than they used to be.”

5. Will history repeat?

Kevin Harvick was penalized after his victory at Las Vegas in March for a violation with the rear window brace. The infraction cost Harvick 20 points and the seven playoff points he earned for winning both stages and the race.

The next weekend, Harvick won at ISM Raceway and punctuated his victory by exiting his car on the frontstretch and pounding the rear window.

“I’ve been pissed is what I’ve been,” Harvick said to Fox after that win. “I’ve been mad as all get out because this team does a great job. This organization does a great job and we’ve got fast race cars. And to take that away from those guys just really pissed me off last week. To come here to a race track that is so good for us is a lot of fun and everyone was just determined this week and we just wanted to just go stomp them. We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s all that really matters. What a badass team right there!

“This really felt more important than winning at Homestead, racing for a championship, just to drive it home for all those supporters out there. And all you haters … I see you.”

Can Harvick come back and win again at Phoenix after another severe penalty? If so, what will he say to the haters this time?