Newman's No. 31 team penalized for tire manipulation

Daytona Beach, FL ( - NASCAR handed down severe penalties to Ryan Newman's No. 31 team in the Sprint Cup Series on Tuesday for altered tires used in the March 22 race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Luke Lambert, the crew chief for the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, has been suspended for the next six races, fined $125,000 and placed on probation until Dec. 31.

James Bender, the team's tire technician, and Philip Surgen, the team engineer, have also been suspended for the next six races and put on probation for the remainder of the year.

The suspension period for Lambert, Bender and Surgen includes Texas (April 11), Bristol (April 19), Richmond (April 25), Talladega (May 3), Kansas (May 9) and Charlotte (May 24) as well as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte (May 16). All three of NASCAR's national touring series are off this Easter weekend.

Newman has been penalized with a loss of 75 points in the driver championship standings, while Richard Childress was docked the same number of points in the owners' standings.

The rule infractions by Newman's team were discovered as a result of NASCAR's post-event tire audit conducted after the Fontana race. The sanctioning body had been taking tires from several teams, including Newman's, and having them thoroughly inspected at an independent agency following the events at Phoenix, Fontana and Martinsville this month.

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.

"NASCAR takes very seriously its responsibility to govern and regulate the rules of the sport in order to ensure competitive balance," NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell said in a statement. "We've been very clear that any modifications to race vehicle tires is an unacceptable practice and will not be tolerated."

Last Friday at Martinsville, 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.

Newman's loss of points dropped him from sixth to 26th in the point standings. He finished fifth in the Fontana race.

Richard Childress Racing has yet to decide if it will appeal the penalty.

"We understand the seriousness of the penalty," RCR team president Torrey Galida said in a statement. "RCR has been one of the most outspoken opponents against 'tire bleeding' since the rumors began to surface last season. Once NASCAR provides us with the specific details of the infraction we will conduct a further internal investigation, and evaluate our options for an appeal."