CHARLOTTE, N.C. NASCAR handed down its most severe penalties yet on its new car Wednesday, when the crew chiefs and car chiefs for Scott Riggs and Johnny Sauter were suspended six races apiece for tampering with the rear wings on their Chevrolets last weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Additionally, crew chiefs Bootie Barker and Dave Skog were fined $100,000 each. Derick Jennings and Thomas Harris, the car chiefs, were not fined but their suspensions are unprecedented. All four must sit out until the July 12 race in Chicago and are on probation through the end of the year.
Riggs and Sauter were each docked 150 driver points, penalties that severely hurt the struggling teams. The cars are both fielded by Haas-CNC Motorsports, which was docked 150 owner points for each Chevrolet. Haas general manager Joe Custer is listed as the owner for Riggs' No. 66, and Margaret Haas is listed as the owner of Sauter's No. 77.
The points deduction is the second largest in NASCAR history, only behind the 151 points Jeremy Mayfield and his team were docked for using an illegal fuel additive at Talladega in 2000.
Gene Haas, who actually owns the fledgling two-car team, began serving a two-year prison sentence for tax evasion in January. The team is widely believed to be for sale, and two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart has acknowledged he's received an offer to buy the organization.
This round of penalties should drop the purchase price, as the points deductions are a significant setback to a pair of cars already running at the back of the field. Riggs' No. 66 drops from 26th to 35th in the owner standings, and Sauter's No. 70 falls even further outside the top 35, from 40th to 44th.
NASCAR officials said the Haas organization was ratted out by other teams in the garage following last Thursday's qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600. When NASCAR checked on the two Chevrolets, officials determined the brackets on the rear wings had been tampered with in an attempt to move the wing and create an aerodynamic advantage.
The cars were confiscated and Riggs and Sauter had to go to backups and start from the back of the field in Sunday's race. Riggs rallied to finish 28th, while Sauter was 35th.
Sprint Cup Series director John Darby called the penalties "probably the most severe we've had with the new car up to this point." NASCAR has not tolerated any modifications to its Car of Tomorrow, which was phased into competition last year and being used exclusively this season.
"The rules are very clear, the inspection processes are very clear and the message that was sent to the teams before the car ever came out that 'We don't want these processes messed with.' I think that message has been delivered fairly clear," Darby said as testing at Pocono Raceway concluded.
"If you look at this penalty and compare it to previous penalties, it is much more severe. The whole point is to make the garage area and all the competitors that compete in our sport understand very clearly that this is a car that we have many, many drawers in the toolbox full of tools that they can work with. But the stuff that's NASCAR's, leave it be NASCAR's and don't mess with it."
Previous penalties had resulted in crew chief suspensions, $100,000 fines and the loss of 100 points. The Haas penalties are the biggest in terms of points deductions and the inclusion of the car chief suspensions.
Darby delivered the news to Haas competition director Matt Borland, Barker and Skog in a 10-minute talk behind the garage after testing was finished at Pocono. Borland declined to discuss the penalties, or reveal if the team plans to appeal.
"Typically when you go through some penalties and there's a rules infraction, you always ask yourself 'Why?' " Darby said. "Why should we have to deal with that? It's obviously not good for Haas Racing, it's not good for NASCAR, it's not good for our sport."