NASCAR Penalizes Austin Cindric’s Team After New Hampshire

Austin Cindric

Getty Austin Cindric will miss three crew members after a penalty.

The No. 2 Cup Series team will be without some key members for the next four weeks. NASCAR has suspended three members of Austin Cindric‘s crew after a lost wheel at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

NASCAR announced the news in the weekly penalty report. Crew chief Jeremy Bullins, front tire changer Curtis Thompson, and jackman Patrick Gray will all miss the next four points-paying events. This includes the trips to Pocono Raceway (July 24), Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course (July 31), Michigan International Speedway (August 7), and Richmond Raceway (August 14). They will be eligible to return at Watkins Glen International on August 21.

The incident occurred after the end of Stage 2. Cindric headed down pit road for fresh tires, but one detached as he left his stall, and it rolled down pit road. Cindric reversed back into the stall before continuing in the Ambetter 301. He ultimately finished 13th in the Cup Series race.

Team Penske has the opportunity to appeal the penalty, which would keep the group together for the trip to Pocono Raceway. However, the team has confirmed that it will not make this appeal and will move forward with team engineer Grant Hutchens as the crew chief.

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The Penalty Prompted Comparisons on Twitter

Austin Cindric

GettyAustin Cindric finished 13th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The lost wheel fell under NASCAR Rule Book Sections and — “loss or separation of an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle.” This violation has brought about a four-race penalty for the majority of teams. Though one avoided the penalty after the trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The No. 20 of Christopher Bell lost a wheel during the Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart on July 10. Like Cindric, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver stopped on pit road and attempted to make it back into his pit stall. Though he ultimately ended up facing the wall in a different driver’s stall.

Bell and the No. 20 team did not receive a penalty for the lost wheel, marking a major change from the standard that had previously been set. The reason is that NASCAR officials had changed the rule midway through the season to where they could make a judgment call about the lost wheel and whether there were any safety issues.

“The amount of speed that the tire is carrying down pit road, did it impede another competitor — all of those things go into the decision-making and obviously the distance that one tire traveled on pit road, the 20 car versus what the 2 car was significantly different,” Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s vice president of officiating and technical inspection, said during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“So although the optics are a loss of wheel on pit road, the two scenarios are quite a bit different. We’ll continue to dissect that and look at it. Again, we don’t want to over-officiate, but tires coming off is a huge safety concern and we just have to make sure that we’re handling that correctly. So we’ll continue to have dialogue internally … but they are two different situations for sure.”

There Are Vocal Critics of the ‘Judgment Call’

The rule change is newer, and it has led to numerous discussions. There have also been many vocal critics of this newfound gray area that requires NASCAR officials to make a judgment call, including the hosts of the “Door, Bumper, Clear” podcast.

“A wheel coming off is a wheel coming off, no matter if it’s on pit road, the race track, wherever,” TJ Majors, Brad Keselowski’s spotter, said during the July 18 episode. “To me, a wheel off is a wheel off. Now you’re opening the door by… now you gotta define if the wheel was rolling too fast, where it was at, is it dangerous or not. A wheel off should be a wheel off, in my opinion.”

Freddie Kraft, the spotter for Bubba Wallace, also weighed in. He said that there shouldn’t be judgment calls. Kraft also noted that there are no defined parameters for what brings down the penalty. No one knows what speed is too fast or how many cars are too many. It creates an unnecessary problem.

“Listen, it’s way more f****** dangerous to lose a wheel on pit road because a car could hit… you know, a car hitting a wheel that’s rolling slow — that’s running 50-60 mph — is gonna launch it,” Kraft continued. “And guess where the people are. The people aren’t on the race track.

“Obviously, there’s people in the grandstands, but there’s no fence [on pit road]. This thing could just jump over a wall and clean out an entire pit crew or fans that are standing behind the pit boxes.”

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