NASCAR Penalizes Custer, SHR No. 41 for Race Manipulation

The action did not affect playoff eliminations; team will appeal


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Following a review of all available data, NASCAR deducted from Cole Custer 50 driver and owner points, while also fining the driver $100,000 and suspending crew chief Mike Shiplett indefinitely for what the sanctioning body deemed a deliberate act of race manipulation during the playoffs.

Specifically, NASCAR cited Sections 4.3.A; 4.4.C & 5.5 of the NASCAR Rule Book (Member Code of Conduct/Performance Obligation) as the reasons to penalize Custer and the SHR No. 41 team. Section 5.5 is effectively the 100 percent rule created in the aftermath of the ‘Spingate’ scandal involving Michael Waltrip Racing at Richmond Raceway during the 2013 regular season finale:

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

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

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

NASCAR determined that Custer intentionally slowed in front of the field on the final lap of Sunday’s Bank of American Roval 400 to allow teammate Chase Briscoe to gain positions potentially needed to advance the No. 14 team into the Round of 8.

As it turned out, Briscoe already owned the tiebreaker with Kyle Larson before the chicane in question, and the positions gained were a moot point, but NASCAR said it would investigate the lap immediately after the race.

Custer told Racing America after the race that Shiplett told him that they had a tire going down as he drove into the backstretch chicane.

"What happened with me is that I tried to pass (Tyler Reddick) and he ran me down to the apron in (oval Turn) 1 and 2," Custer said. "When I came back onto the track, I had a vibration, and then (the team) started yelling at me that we had a flat tire.

"So, I was just going to ease it into the corner to see what I had and I just got ran over by (Austin Dillon) twice. That was my perspective. I thought I had a flat, thought I had a vibration and I got ran over."

NASCAR reviewed team radio transmissions in addition to braking, steering and throttle data before issuing the penalty on Tuesday afternoon.

Shiplett indeed told Custer that he had a flat tire and to ‘check up’ in front of the field.

"I think we’ve got a flat tire. Slow up. I think we’ve got a flat tire. Check up. Check up."

NASCAR said Custer’s response to that made it worse.

"The data was pretty telling," NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said during a media teleconference after the penalty was announced, "and then when we got to the audio and had the crew chief telling the driver that ‘I think you’ve got a flat, checkup, checkup, checkup’ when he couldn’t even see the car or have any idea whatsoever that the car might have a flat, obviously pretty telling as to what went on there.

"That, coupled with the data and the video and all the rest of the things that we looked into – that was the bulk of the things we looked into – nothing contradicted the fact that was done deliberately by those individuals. So, we were certainly forced to react. We can’t have teams manipulating the finishing order.

"Certainly, we’re on super high alert for the playoffs, and had this been the determining factor in the 14 [Briscoe] making it into the Round of 8 or not, it certainly would have been bigger."

As Briscoe would seemingly have advanced regardless of the intended actions by Custer and his team, NASCAR stated on Sunday that any penalty this week would not have affected the Round of 8 roster. Instead, Miller said NASCAR is penalizing that intent.

"Involvement over the radio and instruction of the radio that could not even be construed as anything else, those are the things you can’t overlook," Miller said. "Could we call it teamwork? Yes, teams work together, they draft together, they do all kinds of things together and work as a team, but blatantly pulling over and changing the finishing order on the last lap is what makes it over the top and especially with instruction from the pit box."

Miller said that a suspension for Custer had been discussed but it would not have tracked with precedence.

"Probably a big reason for (the lack of a suspension) is really kind of super flagrant things that eliminated other competitors or actions that were just completely unacceptable," Miller said. "Not that this one was acceptable, but [things that are] dangerous, other things in [that] nature are the only things that in the past we’ve sat a driver down for.

"We did consider that, and we opted not to because of the past precedent that we’ve set for sitting drivers down. It didn’t feel like this completely fit into the pocket."

Stewart-Haas Racing has indicated that it will appeal the penalty.