Both Hendrick Motorsports and Kaulig Racing have spoken out this week, in regard to harsh penalties handed down by the sanctioning body Wednesday, for the illegal modification of a single-source part, specifically hood louvers.
The penalties, handed out Wednesday to all four teams from Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 31 to Kaulig Racing, including a four-race suspension and $100k fine to the impacted crew chiefs, as well as the deduction of 100 driver and owner points, and 10 playoff points.
However, the situation isn’t as cut-and-dry as whether or not the penalized teams modified the single-source parts. As Chad Knaus, VP of Competition at Hendrick Motorsports, told members of the media Friday, it’s whether or not the teams have parts that meet NASCAR’s specifications.
“At the end of last year, everyone worked an awful lot; were very diligent in getting the spec parts developed, and everything done in the parity test that needed to be,” said Knaus. “When we started to get parts at the beginning of the 2023 season, we didn’t have the parts that we thought we were going to have.”
“So, through a tremendous amount of back-and-forth with NASCAR, the OEMs, and the teams, there’s been conversations about whether we can clean up the parts, not clean up the parts. And it’s changed, quite honestly, every couple of weeks. So it’s been challenging for us to navigate and we’re just going to have to see what happens when we get through the appeal.”
In a statement released by HMS on Wednesday, the team cites inconsistent and unclear communications with teams regarding louvers as one of the main reasons for the team’s decision to appeal.
While Knaus says there has been some dialogue between the involved parties – teams had to submit parts through the OEM to NASCAR – the long-time crew chief maintains that said parts haven’t been provided to organizations in the proper state, an issue that isn’t specific to just the Chevrolet teams.
“It’s been trying,” Knaus said. “Look, we’ve all jumped in bed on this thing together since we started the Gen-7 car. And that’s the thing that I think we’ve all prided ourselves on in the garage, is that there’s been a tremendous amount of give-and-take as we’ve tried to learn how to race this car and work together.”
“It’s very disappointing to me that we’re sitting in this situation right now with a component that we’ve all come to the conclusion that it is not correct, and we’ve all tried to work to get it fixed because we’ve done that with the other parts.”
Per Knaus, Hendrick Motorsports and Kaulig Racing – the two teams that received penalties from NASCAR on Wednesday – aren’t “holding hands”, but the possibility of some communication down the road does exist, although at what level is unknown.
The comments made by the long-time crew chief on Friday do fall in line with the ones made by Kaulig Racing, though, who says that NASCAR only confiscated one of the two hood louvers on the No. 31, showing inconsistencies in the parts provided to teams.
“I can tell you this – we’ve got a brand-new set of these parts that we can go pull off the shelf right now that NASCAR deemed illegal and inappropriate for us to race,” Knaus said.
However, potentially the most puzzling part of it all, was the delay between when the initial inspection happened and when NASCAR came back to confiscate the louvers, which Knaus mentions were four hours later.
“We knew there was some attention to that area when we first went through technical inspection. And that’s what’s really disappointing, to be quite honest, because we had plenty of time to get those parts off the car if they felt like there was something wrong,” Knaus said. “I can assure you if we knew there was going to be a four-hour lag and we thought there was something wrong, they would have been in the trash can and burned with fuel somewhere so nobody would ever see them. We had no idea that we were going to be sitting in this position.”
These elements, the inspection and the confiscation of the louvers both happened prior to Friday’s 50-minute practice session at Phoenix Raceway, which was another main point in the decision to appeal for Hendrick Motorsports, as all other L2 penalties had been assessed in post-race tech.
“If you look back at 2022 and the L2 penalties that were handed out, all of those were post-race inspection penalties,” said Jeff Andrews. “There was not an L2-level penalty handed out in 2022 during a pre-race – or at that point even a pre-inspection – where a part was taken and a penalty was issued.”
When asked about the impact of the penalty on the organization – which has now lost 10 playoff points for each entry, and a large number of regular-season points – Knaus was honest about the situation and how it reflects on Hendrick Motorsports and the entire NASCAR Cup Series garage.
“I think it’s a terrible situation, not only for us, but the industry to be quite honest with you. I think that’s what I dislike the most, Knaus said. “It’s ugly, we shouldn’t be in this situation, and it’s really unfortunate that we are because it doesn’t help anybody.
“We as a company and we as a garage – every single one of these teams here are being held accountable to put their car out there to go through inspection and perform at the level they need to like the teams are being held accountable for doing that,” Knaus continued. “Nobody is holding the single-source providers accountable at the level that they need to be, to give us the parts that we need. That goes through NASCAR’s distribution center and NASCAR’s approval process to get those parts, and we’re not getting the right parts.”
However, at least for the time being, the solution to the problems at hand lies within the grasp of the sanctioning body and will require cooperation from patience from everybody involved.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Knaus said when asked if the solution was in the hands of NASCAR. “There are so many areas that we need to continue to improve upon. And again, that’s where I’m probably the most disappointed is that we’ve been going down this path working collectively as a group for quite some time, and for this to pop up like this is really disappointing.”
For the time being, the fates of both Hendrick Motorsports and Kaulig Racing will rely on the National Motorsports Appeals Panel, which Jeff Andrews says has not provided the organization with a date for its appeal.
Author’s Note: TobyChristie.com has reached out to a representative from NASCAR in an attempt to obtain a statement regarding the comments made over the last couple of days, in regard to the inconsistencies of the single-source vendor’s production, but has yet to receive a response.