Heavy penalties to several drivers and teams have shaken up the standings as the NASCAR Cup Series heads back east to Atlanta.
Hendrick Motorsports have been on top of the NASCAR world for the last two weeks. In Las Vegas, they swept the top three positions, and last week in Phoenix William Byron won his second race in a row with each of his three teammates also finishing in the top 10. That momentum came to a screeching halt this week as NASCAR announced severe penalties for each of the four Hendrick Motorsports Cup Series teams.
Last weekend in Phoenix, some controversy arose as NASCAR confiscated the hood louvers from the four Hendrick cars and Kaulig Racing’s No. 31 car driven by Justin Haley after Friday’s practice. NASCAR allowed the teams to run the louvers for practice but took the parts afterward for further examination. The teams replaced the parts and were cleared for Sunday’s race.
This week, upon inspection, it was determined that the five teams “were found with an unapproved modification of a single-source vendor-supplied part,” according to NASCAR. These are considered L2-level penalties, which carry several punishments.
Six Teams Penalized After Phoenix
First, the crew chiefs of each of the five teams were fined $100,000 and suspended for the next four Cup Series races. In addition, each team was docked 100 owner and driver points, along with 10 playoff points should the penalized drivers qualify. The exception to these penalties, however, is Chase Elliott, who didn’t lose any driver points since he is currently away from the team healing from a broken leg and didn’t race in Phoenix.
Hendrick announced in a statement that they would appeal the penalties, but would not request a deferral of any suspensions.
As if that wasn’t enough, the final penalty of the week was handed to Denny Hamlin. Hamlin intentionally drove Ross Chastain up to the wall in the closing laps of last week’s race, and as a result, was given a $50,000 fine and docked 25 driver points. Needless to say, all of these penalties have shaken up the standings quite a bit as NASCAR goes to Atlanta. Most notably, here’s just how drastically things have changed for the Hendrick drivers after the penalties:
Alex Bowman: 1st —> 23rd
William Byron: 4th —> 29th
Kyle Larson: 5th —> 32nd
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a 1.5-mile quad oval that has hosted the NASCAR Cup Series since 1960. The track hosts two yearly Cup Series races and recently underwent renovations to take it from a traditional 1.5-mile oval to a superspeedway. Last year the new layout made its debut, and with a racing surface and higher banked turns, the track races similar to Daytona and Talladega. Despite being about 1-mile shorter than the other two superspeedways on the schedule, drivers can still go flat out due to the 28-degree banking in the turns. NASCAR has even adopted the superspeedway package for Atlanta races, cementing it into its new category.
Chase Elliott is the most recent winner at the track, having won there last fall. Six other current drivers have entered victory lane at the track, though William Byron is the only one among the six to have won on the new layout. Dale Earnhardt dominated the track in his time, winning at Atlanta a record nine times and logging 26 top-five finishes.
Sunday’s race will be 260 laps long and cover 400 miles. Stage 1 will cover the first 60 laps, while Stage 2 will be the next 100 laps. The final stage will consist of the final 100 laps of the race.
As mentioned above, there were some big changes to the standings for this week. Let’s see who makes up the new-look top 10.
- Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing: 151 points
- Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing: 148 points
- Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing: 137 points
- Ryan Blaney, Team Penske: 124 points
- Kyle Busch*, Richard Childress Racing: 122 points
- Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing: 122 points
- Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing: 119 points
- Joey Logano, Team Penske: 118 points
- Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing: 115 points
- Chris Buescher, RFK Racing: 112 points
*= 2023 race winner
Atlanta is a bit more unpredictable these days as it has entered the realm of superspeedways. That being said, Hendrick swept both races here last year, and I expect them to continue their dominance this weekend. Kyle Larson has been in the mix a lot this year and would have a win already with better luck. I think the tides turn for Larson this weekend and he picks up his first win of the year. It would provide a much-needed morale boost for Hendrick after what has turned into a horrendous week.
- Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports
- Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing
- Kyle Busch, Richard Childress Racing
- William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports
- Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing
How To Watch: NASCAR at Atlanta (All Times EST)
- Qualifying: Saturday, March 18 – 11:35 a.m. – FS1
- Ambetter Health 400: Sunday, March 19 – 3:00 p.m. – FOX (Green flag at 3:15 p.m.)