The roller coaster ride that Kyle Larson and his 42 team have been on looks like it might be headed for another dip down later this week.
No Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver has had more ups and downs over the last two weeks that Kyle Larson. At Dover, he qualified on the pole, then had to start at the rear after failing pre-race inspection. He battled a number of issues that left him three laps down at one point and managed to somehow salvage a top-10 finish.
Larson had a tougher time in qualifying at Kansas but the result was the same as he started at the read for the second straight week. This time, his car was even more of a rocket, allowing him to win Stage 2. However, some late race contact with Ryan Blaney (for which Blaney accepted the blame) effectively knocked him out of contention for the win, and he had to settle for coming in fourth.
That wouldn’t be so bad, but there was obvious (as in clearly visible) damage to Larson’s rear window after the race. The driver himself pointed to the Blaney incident and talked that up as a potential cause, but NASCAR took his car to its R&D Center, which is kind of like saying, “Nah, fam” except that NASCAR would never actually say that.
Why is this a big deal? Because roof/rear window damage is the hot rule-breaking offense of the year, one for which NASCAR has already handed out multiple L1 penalties. Kevin Harvick got one that stripped him of the benefits of his Las Vegas win (don’t worry about him, he’s won plenty more races so he’s fine). Multiple drivers got nabbed for similar violations at Dover.
The penalties come with car chief suspensions and loss of driver points, and NASCAR exec Steve O’Donnell sure didn’t sound like he was buying the “on-track incident damage caused the window to look caved in” justification by the 42 team when he appeared on Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (via NASCAR.com).
It’s no different than rear skew in the past where it was an area teams found they could work on — suddenly it’s become the rear window area. We see the claims of damage, but you know, talking to our folks, I’ve never seen damage cause that.
Certainly we’ll go back like we always do and thoroughly inspect the car, but it’s an area we continue to focus on because the teams know that they’ve found something there.
This kind of talk is as fascinating for us bloggers as it is frustrating for fans. This is NASCAR essentially saying that teams are cheating, or it thinks they are, without coming right out and saying it. The “I’ve never seen damage cause that” part is especially damning.
That doesn’t mean Kyle Larson is definitely getting an L1 penalty on Wednesday, but it sure sounds like he and his team might as well prepare for it. Losing 20 driver points is the same thing as taking Larson’s fourth-place finish and turning it into a 24th, and while it’s not a huge deal at the moment — it would knock Larson down only one place in the points standings — it could certainly come back to haunt the 42 bunch if they can’t get their Chevy into Victory Lane sometime this season.
In any case, if Larson does appear on the penalty list on Wednesday, it won’t be a surprise at all. NASCAR car chiefs, you might not want to mess around in the rear window area the rest of the season, because there’s no question it’s being watched like a hawk.