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.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It finally hit Cole Custer on Friday night.
His full-time Xfinity Series racing career is over.
“I guess I didn’t really realize it till tonight,” Custer said after being recognized for his Championship 4 appearance in Miami during the Xfinity and Truck Series Awards Ceremony. “I’ve been in the Xfinity Series a while now, and it’s going to be a little sad leaving for sure. It’s what I’ve been used to the last few years.”
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver – who totaled nine wins in 104 Xfinity starts since 2016 – isn’t the only one whose time on the circuit effectively came to an end with a graduation of sorts in front of peers at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Joining him in the jump to the NASCAR Cup Series are the two drivers who completed the series’ dominating “Big 3” – Christopher Bell and two-time champion Tyler Reddick.
Just like a senior in high school, the realization this chapter in his career was over hit Bell hard last week as he prepared for the season finale.
“Honestly, it was such an emotional week going into Homestead, because I’m very reluctant to change,” Bell said. “I like my routine, and it was tough. I kind of savored every moment of it. My last time sitting in an Xfinity car, my last time going to the races, my last time flying with this group of people. It was an emotional week for sure. Honestly, now that the season’s over it’s definitely behind me. I get the vibe I’m not an Xfinity driver anymore.”
Bell, who won 16 times in 74 starts since 2017, is “nervous” about his move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Leavine Family Racing for his rookie Cup season in 2020. Fortunately for Bell, he’ll do so with the person he considers his “rock,” crew chief Jason Ratcliff.
“He’s the guy who’s going to bring me comfort to the Cup Series,” Bell said. “So my boss stays the same. Just getting to know the people, getting to know the mechanics and the ins and out of their shop will be a process.”
Reddick, who has nine wins in 84 Xfinity starts, enters the Cup Series as the first two-time defending Xfinity champion since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2013.
He’s actually glad his promotion by Richard Childress Racing is happening at the same time as Custer’s and Bell’s.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun that we’ll be racing against each other for the rookie battle,” Reddick told NBC Sports on Wednesday. “It’s also cool, too, because I feel like you often make that step alone by yourself. In recent years, some of these guys do. Granted, we’ll all be with different teams, different manufacturers, organizations. Honestly, I have this feeling the three of us will probably lean on each other quite a bit because we’re all going to be going through a very similar experience for the first time in our careers. I don’t think we planned on that yet, but I have a feeling that could very well happen.”
Well, it depends on where they’re racing.
“I think if we’re all running about 20th, we’ll probably lean on each other,” Bell joked. “If one of us succeeds, then we’re definitely not going to be talking to the other two giving away what we know. We all three have a really good relationship. I definitely expect us to communicate a lot.”
With this chapter of their careers over and new challenges in front of them – like the Cup Series’ own “Big 3” in Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. – it’s time to get a new name for their trio.
Even though he doesn’t like change, Bell is already testing out a new title.
“We’re kind of going to be the ‘Three Amigos,’ right?” Bell said. “Everyone’s kind of got your little cliques going on. At least we got a couple of familiar faces moving up with us.”
The NASCAR Xfinity Awards Show can be seen at 9 p.m. ET on Dec. 1 on NBCSN
CONCORD, N.C. – The midafternoon rays poured through the plate glass picture windows, and illumination suddenly came for this unusually late green flag on a momentous announcement befitting a much earlier timeslot.
Now it made sense: The backdrop of a gorgeous November sunset stretched across the sprawling campus of Hendrick Motorsports was the perfect setting to discuss the dusk of Jimmie Johnson’s career.
Except that wasn’t the reason for holding this opening farewell at the curious start time of 4 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon.
This wasn’t about an ending. The big clue in timing was at the beginning of the news conference to announce the final chapter of perhaps the greatest career in NASCAR history.
“Girls, please join us,” host Winston Kelley called out to Johnson’s daughters, Genevieve and Lydia, who scrambled up the stage in their floral and pink dresses.
“On behalf of our entire family, we would like to thank you for all being here,” Genevieve confidently told the crowd. “Today is a very special announcement. We would like to ask Mr. Hendrick of Hendrick Motorsports and the driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet, seven-time NASCAR champion and our dad, Jimmie Johnson, to please join us on the stage.”
Given their impact on his life-changing decision, he wanted them present. Genevieve, 9, was still “processing the news,” and Lydia, 6, barely feigned interest when dad tried to show her a video Wednesday morning that he soon would post to social media to tell the world.
“Breakfast is a very important part of the day, a focal point for my kids,” Johnson said with a chuckle. “Lydia was midway through her pancakes and could not be bothered and wanted me to pass the butter.”
It turns out Johnson’s youngest can be a tough nut to crack just like the seven-time champion sometimes can be, and Thursday was the most quintessential of Jimmie Johnson news conferences.
Over the course of 45 minutes, there was hardly an ounce of sentimentality about his vast accomplishments. With the exception of a brief quaver and a couple of tears shed at team owner Rick Hendrick’s closing remarks, there was no discernible emotion.
“I’m just very, very thankful for relationships that I’ve built in this sport,” Johnson, 44, said in wrapping up. “My mind is running wild on me right now, and I’m trying not to cry.
That was as close as he got.
Complete and cool detachment, total focus under duress and mental toughness always have been overlooked hallmarks of Johnson’s greatness. They also burn brightly during interviews focusing solely on his life and a career that has featured 83 wins in NASCAR’s premier series and an unprecedented five consecutive championships.
But Johnson rarely reflects publicly in meaningful ways on all that he’s done.
You always have to look harder (because humility keeps him from tipping his hand) to fully understand what drives this once-in-a-generation athlete who might have won the Tour de France instead of the Daytona 500 if he’d put his mind to it.
But once you do, it all makes sense.
“That’s the one thing that people don’t realize about Jimmie,” said longtime crew chief Chad Knaus, who guided Johnson to all his championships while also becoming a best friend. “And I’ve been able to witness it firsthand. When he puts his mind to something, he sets the goals, and he achieves them. Every one of us wants to go and lose weight. Every one of us wants to eat better. And we all halfheartedly attempt to make those goals and actually complete them. He just does it. He’s a pretty special person from that standpoint.”
It’s perhaps the primary reason he has been so wildly successful and why he was so laser-focused Thursday on his performance in his 19th and final season in 2020. He hardly mentioned his family after the introduction even when pressed for how they had influenced his decision.
“I knew that at some point, that was really going to really weigh on me to want to be around (family) a lot more,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to believe they are 9 and 6 now, and that much time has elapsed, but I just have a fire in me to push for that and stay at the track.
“I still have that fire, and I am coming back next year. Next year is not a mail-it-in year. It’s a year we are going to win races and compete for a championship. So I know I can give what I need to this team for another year. After that, I’m ready to have some time back on my side and just have a better balance in life.”
There were glimpses of that balance after Thursday’s program when he spent 20 minutes taking photos with close friends and family.
The first thing he tweeted Friday morning was a collage of his daughters and his wife, Chandra, underscoring their importance in throttling back.
Knaus can relate after becoming a first-time father himself last year to Kipling.
“I would give up every championship and every race win for my son,” Knaus said. “Anybody that has children can identify with that. I never knew the impact that Kipling was going to have on me.
“For Jimmie to have those same emotions for two girls, I can’t even begin to imagine how he’s lasted as long as he has. It’s pretty remarkable, but he’s going to be a great dad. They’re going to have somebody to come home crying to when they have a bad day at school, and he’s going to be there. He’s not going to be necessarily in New Hampshire, Atlanta, Pocono, where he’s not there to share it with them.”
Crew chief Cliff Daniels said Johnson had indicated he needed to step back because he virtually would have no other way to know if his girls needed him more.
“It’s interesting how grateful he has been the whole time that his girls and Chani have supported him no matter what and openly told him as long as he wants to keep driving, they will support him,” Daniels said. “To have that support, I almost think made him a little more introspective to say ‘OK, am I doing the right thing to continue to require this sort of patience and sacrifice from them?’
“I know it is a factor, and he just wants to be at a place in his life where he can enjoy his family, enjoy his career and take a breath.”
As usual with Johnson, you don’t get nearly as much out of him about himself.
He is always accommodating and among the most well-spoken NASCAR drivers for delivering big-picture quotes that can be sharply critical.
He falls into opacity when asked to turn the lens inward, leaning back on a bevy of buzzwords (“headspace”, or just “space”, is often popular) to explain himself in often unintentionally cryptic ways.
It’s better to ask those who know him best about the decision to end his career.
Daniels was given the news in a Tuesday night dinner at Haberdish, a Southern comfort food restaurant in Charlotte’s NoDa arts district (near a gallery owned by his wife).
Over two to three hours of conversation, Daniels could tell Johnson was at peace with the decision after consecutive winless seasons but no less inspired to end on a high note after missing the playoffs for the first time in 2019.
“It was a completely refreshing conversation,” Daniels said. “It wasn’t a shocking surprise. … To know he is still very positive about himself really means a lot to me because I know we’re going to see that on the racetrack next year. We’re going to see a guy who’s energized, excited, kind of rejuvenated to really go out on top, and I think he’s more than capable.”
Jeff Gordon, who hand-picked Johnson as the driver of Hendrick’s No. 48 after being impressed in an Xfinity race nearly 20 years ago, said his former protegé already had made up his mind about full-time retirement when they recently met for coffee … and likely long before that.
“Heck, I can remember when I was retiring (in 2015), hearing just a few questions that maybe he asked about the process and what made me decide that was the time,” Gordon said. “But the last couple of weeks, he and I got together, and it was more us just bouncing thoughts and ideas as friends.”
So what is next after 2020?
Probably something in racing. There are hints about sports cars (Johnson has raced in but has yet to win the Rolex 24) and IndyCar races on street and road courses. The World of Outlaws tweeted an invite to run a sprint car.
“He’s very committed and nothing will stop him, so who knows,” Gordon said of Johnson. “I got to compete against him in basically the same equipment, and I can tell you I’ve never raced with anybody better. That’s why I respect him so much. I’ll just second what a lot of people have been saying is the way he’s done it. To do it with class, style, his own way. I appreciate that.”
“I looked up to other drivers and either tried to emulate them or tried to beat them and hopefully force them to step their game up. I hope that I did that for others, but I can tell you 100% Jimmie did that for me and others, I’m sure. I thought that I had things figured out, and then Jimmie Johnson comes along and starts beating me on a regular basis. It forced me to look within myself and go, ‘OK, what am I not doing? What more can I do?’ He elevated my game.”
Johnson always has tried to downplay that legacy and did so again Thursday by nothing he’s “not very smart.” He unfailingly has presented himself for nearly 20 years as just the simple son of a heavy machinery operator and a school bus driver from a lower-middle class trailer park in El Cajon, California.
Such a backstory should have resonated more with NASCAR’s blue-collar fan base, which mostly seems to overlook his fun-loving side that was baked in the freewheeling Southern California sun.
Car owner Rick Hendrick was right to call Johnson “the perfect driver” as far as talent, sponsor relations and physical commitment. “You never had to make an excuse for Jimmie Johnson,” Hendrick said. “He was always on his mark. He never embarrassed anybody. He is a role model and an athlete that I’ve never seen in any kind of sport.”
But his driver also is no saint, and he knows how to have fun. He celebrated his first championship with an ill-advised and alcohol-drenched surfing stunt atop a golf cart at a charity tournament, resulting in a tumble and a broken wrist.
On an entryway table Thursday, Johnson offered a media gift – 50 ml glass bottles of Patron Silver – that was a nod to an upstanding seven-time champion who also favored tequila shots with his team members in an anteroom at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas — an annual tradition they started during NASCAR Champion’s Week.
But Johnson always has resisted — not on purpose, mind you, it’s just the way he’s wired to be reserved and humble on camera — the attempts to jam him into the boxes that conveniently would explain how a relative unknown showed up in 2002 and effortlessly outran heralded teammate Gordon to reach NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore (albeit in the Teddy Roosevelt position).
It’s made it more difficult to appreciate how great Johnson is
When he is inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2024, Johnson will take his rightful place alongside Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. He is their equal in on-track titles and as an off-track ambassador.
The comparisons stop there, though. Johnson is extremely well-liked among his peers but never has been labeled as the Mr. Congeniality of Petty or having the John Wayne swagger of Earnhardt.
This is more an indictment of us than him. Johnson always has compartmentalized his feelings, but he also has done it with dignity and earnestness that sometimes is mischaracterized as robotic and vanilla.
In a racing series that has celebrated bad guys, he frequently has been criticized for just being too … good.
“On the track, off the track; I mean I think sometimes people didn’t respect him because he was too perfect,” Hendrick said. “You know, that he didn’t have that big edge. But he could win and do it like that and be a gentleman and race people clean and ever had any problems. And so when history looks back at him, they’ll say that this guy was an unbelievable athlete (and) father, and he and Chani give so much away
“In every box that you check in life (like) what you do with kids, how you raise your family, and you’re a champion. And every sponsor that he’s had, they love him to death. I just think the stats speak for themselves. But people are going to remember the man, Jimmie Johnson.”
And soon he’ll be just the family man.
With much more time to enjoy the sunsets with his girls.
There was one big shakeup from last year’s end-of-the-year wins list, as Martin Truex Jr. leaped over Joey Logano on the list and is now seventh among active drivers.
The following list is made up of drivers who started in the season finale, including Joe Nemechek, who started in seven of the last 11 races. It also includes Paul Menard and David Ragan, who made their final full-time Cup starts in Miami:
1. Jimmie Johnson – 83 wins (Winless in last 95 starts)
2. Kyle Busch – 56 wins (Five wins in 2019. Has at least five wins in four of the last five seasons.)
3. Kevin Harvick – 49 wins (Four wins in 2019)
4. Denny Hamlin – 37 wins (Six wins in 2019, his most since 2010)
5. Kurt Busch – 31 wins (One win in 2018; Has won at least once in last six seasons)
6. Brad Keselowski – 30 wins (Three wins in 2019; Has three wins in each of the last three season.)
7. Martin Truex Jr. – 26 wins (Seven wins in 2019; At least four wins in each of last four seasons)
8. Joey Logano – 23 wins (Two wins in 2019)
9. Ryan Newman – 18 wins (Winless in last 104 starts)
10. Clint Bowyer – 10 wins (Winless in last 57 races)
12. Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson – 6 wins
13. Joe Nemechek – 4 wins (None since 2004)
14. Ryan Blaney – 3 wins (One win in each of last three seasons)
19. Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Ragan, Erik Jones – 2 wins
23. Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher, Paul Menard, Justin Haley – 1 win