Sunday, April 2 2023

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

NASCAR fined Cole Custer and docked him points while indefinitely suspending his crew chief for what NASCAR viewed as an attempt to manipulate the Cup Series race finish Sunday on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.

Custer slowed on the final lap, allowing Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Chase Briscoe to pass him. Briscoe advanced to the next round of the playoffs, the Round of 8, by two points over Kyle Larson. Briscoe owned the tiebreaker, so if he had finished three spots worse, Larson would’ve advanced.

NASCAR fined Custer $100,000 and docked him 50 points and fined crew chief Mike Shiplett $100,000 while indefinitely suspending him. Stewart-Haas Racing will appeal the penalty, which included 50 points in the team owner standings.

“That was done deliberately by those individuals, so we were certainly forced to react,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said. “We can’t have teams manipulating the finishing order.”

This marks the first time since 2013 that NASCAR has penalized a team for intentionally losing spots to help a teammate remain in contention to win a championship.

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Shiplett told Custer that he had a flat tire and to slow down, and that plus data from the car’s telemetry system gave NASCAR no doubt that the move was intentional.

“The data was pretty telling, and then when we got to the audio of the crew chief telling the driver that ‘I think you’ve got a flat, 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 what went on there,” Miller said.

In 2013, NASCAR determined that Clint Bowyer had spun on purpose and Brian Vickers then pitted on purpose to help Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. make the playoffs in the regular-season finale. NASCAR issued a points penalty to Truex that knocked him out of the playoffs, put Ryan Newman in the playoffs and later added Jeff Gordon to the playoff field when it appeared that other teams also possibly tried to manipulate the finish.

NASCAR discussed suspending Custer, but Miller said driver suspensions are typically for only the most flagrant and dangerous acts of taking out other competitors. NASCAR didn’t penalize Briscoe because, Miller said, he didn’t need the help to advance.

“Had this been the determining factor of the [No.] 14 [of Briscoe] making it into the Round of 8 or not, our reaction certainly would have been bigger,” Miller said. “The 14 qualified for the Round of 8 without this.”

The NASCAR performance obligation rule, which was instituted after the 2013 incident at Richmond, states:

— NASCAR requires its Competitor(s) to race at 100% of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in the Event.

— Any Competitor(s) who takes action with the intent to Artificially Alter the finishing positions of the Event or encourages, persuades or induces others to Artificially Alter the finishing positions of the Event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR, as specified in Section 10 Violations and Disciplinary Action.

— “Artificially Alter” shall be defined as actions by any Competitor(s) that show or suggest that the Competitor(s) did not race at 100% of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the Event, in NASCAR’s sole discretion.

The rule has created much discussion, as drivers often help teammates by not racing as hard or holding up another driver. NASCAR didn’t penalize Chase Elliott for blocking Kevin Harvick last year at Bristol, which allowed teammate Kyle Larson to pass Harvick to win the race. Elliott had been mad at Harvick for what he thought was intentionally cutting his tire earlier in the race.

“I don’t believe anybody told Chase Elliott to block Kevin Harvick so Kyle Larson could win,” Miller said. “That was a driver taking things into his own hands. Sketchy? Yes. 

“But premeditated to alter the results of the race? I don’t think so.”

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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