It’s a day ending with the letter “Y,” which can mean only one thing: a NASCAR penalty. The latest affected driver is Erik Jones in the No. 43 Chevy at Legacy Motor Club.

Jones was pretty much in must-win territory already, so his big points penalty will not matter in the regular season. But in a year of one NASCAR penalty after another for equipment violations, the next set of NASCAR sanctions could do real damage to the sport.

Erik Jones is the latest driver feeling NASCAR penalty pain

Driver Erik Jones poses for a photo during NASCAR Production Days at Charlotte Convention Center on Jan. 18, 2023. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Driver Erik Jones poses for a photo during NASCAR Production Days at Charlotte Convention Center on Jan. 18, 2023. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

NASCAR has dropped an L1-level penalty on Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club following an inspection of the No. 43 Chevy at the R&D Center. NASCAR impounded the car on Sunday following his 18th-place finish at World Wide Technology Raceway.

The closer look turned up modifications to the greenhouse of the car. NASCAR docked the driver and the team 60 championship points and five playoff points, dropping Jones to 30th in the Cup Series standings. Crew chief Dave Elenz will pay a $75,000 fine and miss the next two races.

The NASCAR penalty to Jones marks the 11th time in 15 races that an inspection has turned up an infraction resulting in fines, suspensions, and/or point deductions.

It has meant repeated adjustments to the standings, obfuscating what’s taken place on the track. To wit: William Byron is second on the points list but would be leading the field by 47 points if not for a penalty to the No. 24 Chevy this spring. Chase Briscoe’s penalty is the difference between 19th and 31st place, qualifying him as another must-win competitor.

The next NASCAR penalty could be a killer

Most of the cars making the NASCAR penalty report have landed there following inspections at the R&D center. To date, however, no winning cars have made the list. Those cars go through tear-downs at the track like the one causing Denny Hamlin’s disqualification in 2022, but they don’t necessarily go to North Carolina for further scrutiny.

That’s a good thing, too.

Having to disqualify Hamlin and runner-up Kyle Busch last year at Pocono was an embarrassment to the sport. Fans left the track thinking Hamlin won, and some did not learn about the problem with the post-race inspection until firing up their laptops or iPads the following morning.

The only scenario worse than a DQ hours after the race would be for NASCAR to discover an issue with the winner’s car at the R&D center one or two days later. It would cast a shadow over the previous race, distract from the next race, and raise questions of competency over how the issue wasn’t detected during inspections before qualifying and immediately after the victory.

The publicity, particularly from the segment of the media that already has issues with NASCAR, would be horrible for the sport and potentially give prospective new sponsors pause before committing.

With so many cars already dinged this season, it feels that that disastrous turn is almost inevitable at some point soon.

The list of penalized Cup Series drivers and teams is lengthy

Strip out Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, and Chase Elliott playing bumper cars with antagonists, and the compilation of NASCAR Cup Series penalties related to equipment violations is still longer than Philadelphia Flyers penalty summaries at the peak of the Broad Street Bullies era:

  • Phoenix: The confiscation of hood louvers from the four Hendrick Motorsports cars and the No. 31 Chevy of Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley set off an epic firestorm. The HMS drivers got their points restored upon appeal, and NASCAR agreed to do likewise for Haley despite having its findings upheld in two appeals.
  • Texas Motor Speedway: NASCAR went back for a second bite of the HMS apple and hit William Byron and Alex Bowman with penalties of 60 championship points and five playoff points for greenhouse alterations.
  • Martinsville: Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevy at Richard Childress Racing was dinged 60 championship points and five playoff points for problems with the underwing assembly mounting.
  • Darlington: Tyler Reddick’s No. 45 Toyota at 23XI Racing lost 10 championship points in a NASCAR penalty for how ballast was loaded onto his car.
  • Charlotte: NASCAR hit Chase Briscoe of Stewart-Haas Racing with one of the biggest penalties ever – 120 championship points, 25 playoff points, and a $250,000 fine and six-week suspension for crew chief John Klausmeier – stemming from a counterfeit NACA duct to the engine panel.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected]

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