Tony Stewart and Austin Dillon were both penalized by NASCAR on Tuesday for the exact same violation, but the punishment levied against the Nationwide Series driver may prove more painful in the long run.
Dillon's No. 3 team was penalized for the second consecutive week, this time for an unapproved open vent hose found inside the car during post-qualifying inspection Friday at Daytona International Speedway. The violation, which in theory could reduce drag and give the vehicle an aerodynamic edge on the restrictor-plate track, led to Dillon's qualifying time being disallowed, and on Tuesday the loss of six championship points.
One week ago, Dillon's team was penalized six points after the rear of his car was found to be too low following his dominant victory at Kentucky Speedway. The Richard Childress Racing driver has now been stripped of 12 points the past two weeks, and rather than leading the Nationwide standings is eight points behind teammate Elliott Sadler. Those lost points could very well have an impact on the championship race, given that the Nationwide tour does not employ a Chase format in which the standings are reset.
In addition to the six points taken from Dillon, listed car owner Morgan Shepherd was also docked six owner points. No. 3 crew chief Danny Stockman has been fined $10,000 -- the same amount he was fined last week for the Kentucky violation -- and also suspended until July 25 for violating a probation he was placed on following the use of unapproved front-bumper covers at Richmond. Car chief Robert Strmiska was also suspended. Both men are on probation until Dec. 31.
An RCR spokesman said the team would make no statement on Tuesday's penalties, and there was no immediate word on whether the Childress team would appeal. The organization did not appeal the Kentucky penalties.
NASCAR penalized Stewart on Tuesday for the same infraction, also found on his car in post-qualifying inspection. His qualifying time was also disallowed, forcing him to start 42nd in the field, but the reigning Sprint Cup champion overcame that hurdle to win Saturday night's race. Stewart was docked six championship points, as was listed car owner Margaret Haas in the owner standings. Crew chief Steve Addington was fined $25,000, and he and car chief Jeff Meendering were both placed on probation until Aug. 22.
The points deduction moves Kevin Harvick into a tie with Stewart for fifth in Sprint Cup points, though Stewart holds the tiebreaker by virtue of his three race victories this season. The effect of the points penalty is muted somewhat by the fact that points will be reset under the Chase format after the Sept. 8 race at Richmond. Thanks to his race wins, Stewart is almost guaranteed of a high seed in the playoff.
Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart's Stewart-Haas Racing team, said the violation at Daytona was not intentional. "While we respect and accept NASCAR's decision, we want to be clear that there was no malicious intent," he said in a statement. "In a rush to replace a cracked rear windshield that happened during tech inspection prior to qualifying, we jostled a cooling hose that was behind the seat. We understand NASCAR's position and will abide by its decision."
NASCAR on Tuesday also issued a penalty to the No. 18 Nationwide team fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, and driven last weekend by Joey Logano. That vehicle did not meet minimum front-height requirements in inspection following the race at Daytona on Friday night. As a result, crew chief Adam Stevens was fined $10,000, and he and car chief Christopher Landis were both placed on probation until Aug. 22. Since that car does not compete for a driver's championship in that series, the only points penalty was six owner points taken from Gibbs.