NASCAR took the unique step of suspending the wrong crew member after a wheel came off Denny Hamlin’s car at Dover on Monday.
Hamlin’s crew didn’t get the left-front wheel tight on his car during a pit stop after the conclusion of the first stage of the race. As Hamlin was the first car to leave pit road, the wheel came off his car and came to a stop near the inside wall at the end of pit lane. Here's how the pit stop unfolded:
The 2022 Cup Series cars have just one lug nut instead of five and loose wheels have been a significant issue for teams as they struggle with the new pit guns and pit stop procedures. AJ Allmendinger’s team also failed to tighten a wheel completely during Monday’s race and he caused a caution when his right-front wheel came off.
With the looming potential of loose wheels this season, NASCAR said that it would suspend a team’s crew chief and two other crew members for four races if a team had a loose wheel. And on Tuesday, NASCAR announced the penalties for Hamlin and Allmendinger’s teams.
Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart, Jackman Derrell Edwards, and tire changer Blake Houston were the No. 11 car crew members suspended. The suspensions of Edwards and Houston make sense on the surface; Edwards dropped the jack on Hamlin’s pit stop before the left-front tire was fully fastened on the car.
But Houston wasn’t the tire changer on that pit stop. If you watch the highlight above, you can see that Houston is carrying Hamlin’s left front tire and crew member Michael Hicks is the man changing the tire.
Yet Hicks wasn’t suspended by NASCAR. Why? Who knows for sure. NASCAR’s explanation, per Fox Sports, is because Houston was the one listed as the front tire changer on Hamlin’s car. But with it being so obvious on video that Hicks was the one changing the tire, it’s a bit odd why NASCAR wouldn’t penalize him. Did it simply look at the crew roster and not the video replay of the stop before announcing the penalty?
NASCAR isn’t rescinding the penalty on Houston and applying it to Hicks, either. And it has that discretion in the rule book. The NASCAR rule book says that a crew chief and two additional crew members get suspended for four races for a loose wheel. It doesn’t specify that the two additional crew members have to be the ones involved in the infraction.
But that leeway in the rulebook still doesn’t make the suspension decision make much sense. The NBA didn’t eject Kevon Looney for Draymond Green’s flagrant foul against the Grizzlies on Sunday because Green was playing the position that Looney started in when the foul happened. With video equipment installed on pit road at every NASCAR race, it shouldn’t be that hard to suspend the crew members actually involved in the mistakes that result in penalties. But this is NASCAR, after all. Sometimes the simplest things get unnecessarily overcomplicated.