AT the end of The ROVAL race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 9, there was some question as to whether Stewart-Haas Racing driver Cole Custer used his number 41 car on the track to hold up other drivers and aid SHR teammate Chase Briscoe to earn a spot in the round of eight of the playoffs. NASCAR announced after the race that the incident was under review and they would make their finding known later in the week. NASCAR officials did says that whatever their decision, it would not affect the eight drivers in the playoffs.
On October 11, NASCAR released those findings in the form of a penalty…a BIG penalty against Custer and SHR.
Citing Section 5.5 of the NASCAR rule book which states a driver must “race at 100 percent of their ability and takes action against competitors who intend to artificially alter the race’s finishing positions,” and the rules pertaining to member conduct; NASCAR has fined driver Cole Custer and crew chief Michael Shiplett $100,000 each. In addition, Shiplett has been suspended indefinitely. Custer and SHR have also been docked 50 driver and car owner points each.
An official with Stewart-Haas Racing has stated that the team does intend to appeal the ruling.
On the final lap of the Bank of America 400 on Sunday, Cole Custer apparently slowed his car down; holding up Austin Dillon and Erik Jones. The action allowed fellow SHR driver Chase Briscoe who was in danger of being eliminated form the next round of the playoffs to pass both drivers going into the back stretch chicane. As a result, Briscoe became the final driver to move on in the playoffs by two points and eliminated the reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Larson.
NASCAR competition officials used video and in car audio footage to make their determination as to whether Custer broke the rules.
NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller spoke on the matter and noted that while Briscoe advanced to the round of eight despite any help from his teammate; but added that after analyzing the data and the actions of crew chief Michael Shiplett, NASCAR was obligated to step in.
Citing some of that data Miller said, “when we got to the audio, and had the crew chief telling the driver that, ‘I think you got a flat (tire). Check up, check up, check up,’ when he couldn’t even see the car or have any idea whatsoever that the car might have a flat, obviously pretty telling as to what went on there. That coupled with the data and the video and all the rest of the things that we looked into, well, that was the bulk of the things … nothing contradicted the fact that was done deliberately by those individuals, so we were certainly forced to react, and you saw their reaction today.”
Miller added, “we can’t have teams manipulating the finishing order. Certainly on super high alert for the playoffs, and had this been the determining factor in the 14 making it into the Round of eight or not, our reaction certainly would have been bigger.”
Miller also noted that the officials also considered punishing Chase Briscoe but noted Briscoe’s “actions didn’t rise to the level of a ‘super-flagrant’ offense. Miller added, “we did consider that and we opted not to, just kind of because of the past precedent that we’ve set for sitting drivers down and didn’t feel like this completely fit into the bucket.”
Miller stated that after reviewing the data from Briscoe’s radio transmissions and other data, no damning evidence was found. Miller said, “the only chatter they had on the radio was about kind of where they were points-wise with the current running order but nothing that we could even remotely point to as being any kind of scandalous conversation on the radio.”
In other penalty news…
The Xfinity Series Kaulig Racing number 10 car driven by Landon Cassill was found to have a single lug nut improperly secured and; as a result, crew chief Alex Yontz was fined $5,000.
Big Machine Racing’s hauler driver Eric Woods has been suspended indefinitely for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.