What on earth is going on?
That is the exact question several within the industry are asking, over a month after NASCAR chose to distribute major penalties to both Hendrick Motorsports and Kaulig Racing, for the illegal modification of single-source parts (hood louvers) post-Phoenix.
Over the last seven days, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel (NMAP) has conducted both of its independent appeals of the L2 penalties from Phoenix, hearing the case for both Hendrick Motorsports and Kaulig Racing.
It was Hendrick Motorsports that got the first crack at making its case to a three-person panel of Kelly Housby, Dixon Johnston, and Bill Lester. Upon review, the NMAP chose to amend the penalty, removing all points implications assessed to the four entries.
So then naturally, you would assume when a different three-person panel convened less than a week afterward, that the result would be a carbon copy of the appeal by Hendrick Motorsports.
Well, you would be sadly mistaken.
On Wednesday, the three-person panel – which this time included Hunter Nickell, Shawna Robinson, and Steve York – heard the appeal from Kaulig Racing on the same infraction. However, they made a different decision.
Kaulig Racing did have its penalty amended, but only saw the points penalty reduced from 100 to 75 points, rather than a complete extinguishing of any point impact that Hendrick received just a week prior.
It took an excruciating 32 days to get to the point where the case could potentially be closed – but likely won’t be, as Chris Rice eluded to the fact that Kaulig Racing will likely take the next step in its appeal journey.
For a reference on the longevity of the situation, Hendrick Motorsports will be using its interim crew chiefs for the final time Sunday in the Food City Dirt Race, after choosing to not defer the four-race suspensions incurred.
But, why the discrepancy in penalty amendments by the National Motorsports Appeals Panel between the two organizations? That’s the thing, we don’t know, and we probably never will.
According to Section 11.7.G of the NASCAR Rule Book, “Appeals Summaries shall be confidential and not released to the public by either party or shared or discussed via social media in any manner, whether in whole or in part. Release to the public may result in a penalty.”
Honestly, what is the big secret in this situation, anyways? There can’t possibly be anything in this appeal that is as government-level confidential as the sanctioning body and National Motorsports Appeals Panel are making it out to be.
It stands to reason that any three-person panel tasked with deciding the outcome of any major organization and the penalties they’ve received should be completely without bias. So, wouldn’t requiring the panel to provide public reasoning behind their decision help to avoid any biases that could prevail behind the scenes?
This overall request for transparency isn’t just limited to the National Motorsports Appeals Panel and the overall process for penalty appeals, though. It’s a systematic issue that is prominent within the sport, and has been for several years.
NASCAR continues to be one of the only major sporting leagues that doesn’t have its rule book available to the public. Instead, it is hidden behind a password-protected online portal that only members and some credentialled media have access to.
Over the last couple of years, there have been several notables that have spoken about a complete breakdown of communication between NASCAR and its drivers and organizations, most recently in the case of the Next Gen car.
That miscommunication – whether it be the fault of anybody or a misunderstanding – stands to be the main reason that the situation with the hood louvers has come up in the first place and impacted the wallets of Hendrick Motorsports and Kaulig Racing.
All of these things, along with several other potential issues not listed, could be fixed with some transparency. Yet, it isn’t solely up to NASCAR, but will likely be a collective effort between several different sectors of the industry, to make this happen.
But, maybe, just maybe, we can get a new trend of transparency started by getting this long-winded situation with the hood louvers figured out, by virtue of an explanation from the National Motorsports Appeals Panel.
Sure, that’s against NASCAR’s current rules and regulations, but the last time I checked, changing the rules for the betterment of communication and understanding is usually a change that goes over uncontested.