Concord, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - The National Motorsports Appeal Panel upheld the penalties assessed by NASCAR to Richard Childress Racing No. 31 team for altered tires used on Ryan Newman's car in the March 22 race at Auto Club Speedway, but the panel lowered the points deduction and monetary penalty.
After hearing RCR's appeal for nearly seven hours on Thursday, the three- member panel decided to reduce the loss of points for both driver Newman and car owner Richard Childress from 75 to 50 and lessen crew chief Luke Lambert's fine from $125,000 to $75,000.
The six-race suspensions for Lambert, James Bender, the tire technician on the No. 31 team, and Philip Surgen, the team engineer, still stand. All three were placed on probation until Dec. 31 as well.
On March 31, NASCAR handed down the severe penalties to the 31 team following a tire audit conducted after the race at Auto Club Speedway. The sanctioning body had been taking tires from several teams, including Newman's, and having them thoroughly inspected at an independent agency this past month.
At Martinsville Speedway on the last weekend in March, NASCAR officials met with Sprint Cup teams to remind them of the severity of penalties for tire and wheel violations, including bleeding air from the tires -- a process by which tiny holes are drilled into the tires to slowly reduce air pressure and therefore provide better grip on the track.
According to NASCAR, Newman's team violated the following sections of the 2015 rule book:
12.1 - Actions detrimental to stock car racing.
20.16.A (wheels and tires) - Any device, modification, or procedure to the tire or wheel, including the valve stem hardware, that is used to release pressure, beyond normal pressure adjustments, from the tire and/or inner shield, will not be permitted.
20.16.2.F (tires) - Modifications to the tires, by treatment or any other means, will not be permitted.
The infractions resulted in a P5 level penalty on NASCAR's six-level penalty scale, with P1 the least significant and P6 the most significant.
RCR informed NASCAR of its request for an appeal on April 2, and the hearing date was scheduled for April 16. Prior to the appeal, NASCAR deferred the penalties for the three suspensions and the fine but not for the loss of points.
The hearing was held at NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, and the panel included John Capels (former USAC chairman), Hunter Nickell (former Speed Channel president) and Dale Pinilis (Bowman-Gray Stadium track operator).
In announcing its decision of the appeal, the panel said "the appellants (RCR No. 31 team) violated the rule or rules set forth in the penalty notice, and it is a P5 level violation. The panel also noted it "amends the original penalty levied by NASCAR because there is no written explanation of what constitutes a post-race inspection. Therefore, the penalty elements added under (2015 NASCAR rule book) Section 22.214.171.124.3 (P5 level infractions detected during post-race inspection) are removed."
The panel then adjusted the loss of points for both Newman and Childress to 50 and Lambert's fine to $75,000.
RCR can make a second and last appeal to Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss, but as of Thursday night, the team had not announced their plans.
After learning of the panel's decision, Lambert said in a brief statement to the media, "I'd like to say I'm thankful today to have had the opportunity to present our facts to the appeals panel, and I appreciate their consideration of those facts in making the decision to reduce the fine and reduce the points penalty, based on the decision and the facts that were presented. However, I am disappointed in the decision not to completely overturn the penalty based on the facts that were presented today. At this point in time, we're going to consider our options and discuss as a group what we're going to do moving forward."
When Newman had originally been docked 75 points, he dropped from sixth to 26th in the Sprint Cup point standings. The penalty adjustment now puts him 20th in the rankings.