Breaking News: A Scientific Interpretation of the Upholding of the 33-Car Penalities

Here’s the fast analysis of the statement from NASCAR upholding the penalties on the 33-car from New Hampshire.  More will follow after proper digestion and reflection.  This is an interpretation of the penalty upholding statement (as reported by Jeff Gluck) because that’s the first tweet I saw.  The panel’s statements are in italics and my interpretation in non-italics.

The Appellants did not contest that the car measured out of specifications upon inspection. RCR agreed that NASCAR’s measurements of the car did show that the car was not in compliance after the race.

The Appellants argued that, having received a warning about the car body of the #33 car being “too close” following the Richmond race, that it was inconceivable that they would bring a non-conforming car to New Hampshire. RCR to NASCAR:  We’re not stupid, folks.  We knew you wanted to see the car, we knew you thought we were hitting the edge of the acceptable with the Richmond car.  We’re not going to try to get away with anything.  OK, that’s an argument we all sympathize with, but how do you prove it?  I wonder whether RCR presented any data from measurements of the car prior to it leaving the shop.  Then again, remember Gary Hart daring the media to catch him in illicit activity?  This isn’t really a scientific argument, it’s an article of faith.

They argued that the left rear frame member was actually bent upward as a result of the car being pushed towards Victory Lane by a wrecker after the post-race burnouts, which resulted in the left rear measurement “hard point” being too high. To this end, they also presented an accident reconstruction specialist to demonstrate that a wrecker might bend up the left rear strut in the trunk under certain conditions. The specialists, however, indicated that such an occurrence would strictly affect the left rear because of the match-up between the wrecker pushbar and the angle of the racecar’s rear bumper. He went on to say that the corresponding right rear measurements should not be affected, in his view, nor the frame member deformed as a team representative had alleged.

This is a very interesting statement.  A ‘hard point’ is a point on the car that is specified as having to be in a certain position.  It’s like me telling you that you can sit any way you like, as long as you keep both feet on the floor.  Feet on the floor is a ‘hard point’.  You can do anything with your hands and legs, but I’m declaring you illegal if you don’t have your feet on the floor.  When they talk about the frame, they’re talking about part of the chassis, usually the part made with rectangular tubing (as opposed to round tubing). On the photo at right, the rear is pointing to the right.  The frame is the square part; however, that’s connected to the round tubing that supports the rear bumper and the gas tank.

According to NASCAR’s statement:  The accident specialist argued that it was possible that the tow truck might bend the left rear strut in the trunk.  I can’t tell from that exactly which part of the car they are denoting.  The next statement, however, says that ‘the specialists’ (one has to assume they mean the RCR specialists, not the NASCAR R&D specialists) said that this would ONLY AFFECT the left rear bumper and NOT the right rear bumper.

The panel then goes on to say that the specialist contradicted the team’s claims and that the team claimed that they left AND the right measurements should have been affected. I haven’t seen the tape on this, but given the frustration of the specialist reported by the folks who were there when RC came out (“they didn’t listen to anything I said”), this is a really curious piece of information.  The panel thinks there was contradictory evidence presented.  Does RCR?

The Appellants also contested the severity and timing of the penalty. Well, yeah, you sort of have to.

Claims that the wrecker caused the infraction were negated by the telemetry from the car which did not show a sharp impact spike; by the fact that the rear template still fit snugly across the entire rear of the car; by a visual inspection of the rear of the car which showed nothing of note in the way of damage; and a visual review of the videotape of post race assistance tendered by the wrecker which appeared as relatively gentle pushing.

This is is important because of the reference to hard data.  A ‘sharp impact spike’ would be a peak on a graph of force (or acceleration since F=ma) as a function of time.  The panel asserts that there was not a significant enough spike to cause the damage.  I’ve shown such a spike at left.  This is the same type of data you’d use to determine how hard a hit a car took in an accident.  The accident reconstructionist should have been able to provide some data about the size of the force necessary to bend the strut. The panel believed the force that was shown on the ‘black box’ wasn’t enough to cause the offset.

The rear template still fit the car, which suggests that there was minimal change in the shape of the body, and that was supported by looking at the car.  If I came to you and said that someone had hit my car with a baseball bat, you’d have a certain expectation for what type of damage that would cause.  If that damage weren’t there, you might be suspicious about whether the baseball bat incident actually happened.  The panel also looked at the video tape and found it to be consistent with the damage and the telemetry, which led them to conclude that the force of the tow truck wasn’t sufficient to cause the change in height.  The panel is arguing that the probability that there was damage significant enough to throw off the measurement, but not significant enough to see or be indicated by failure to fit the template wasn’t large enough to be convincing.

Of significance to the Panel were some additional facts which came to light during the hearing. Particularly of note were the facts that both rear hard points, left and right, were high, and that the rear of the body was offset on the frame.

They’re re-iterating here that the car was high on the left AND right sides and, according to their interpretation of the RCR specialist’s testimony, the tow truck explanation would result in only the left side being high.  They also noted that the rear of the body was offset on the frame.  This is a cryptic comment because it doesn’t tell us whether it was left/right offset or up/down.

The Panel found that the penalties were consistent for infractions of this magnitude.

Therefore, it is the unanimous decision of the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel to uphold the original penalties.

I’m not saying anything here about whether I think the conclusion is valid or not – just trying to explain what I think the panel means.  I’ll be on Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody Thursday at 4:40 EDT to talk about the situation.

If I were a NASCAR reporter, here are the questions I’d want answered, either by RCR or by NASCAR R&D and ideally by both.

1.  Here’s a picture of the chassis.  Which frame member(s) are the ones that would have to have been bent by the tow truck?

2.  Did the RCR accident reconstruction guy (a very respected engineer, by the way) actually contradict what RCR said or did the panel misundertand what he was saying?

Is this really a story?   I don’t understand how RCR could have taken the chance of bringing a purposely wrong car, especially one off by that much.  I also don’t understand how the damage could have happened at the track.  It might be as simple as someone having measured wrong at the shop.  But science is about understanding WHY.  Most importantly – it’s about understanding, not accepting what you’re told or basing your conclusions on which team you like best or your gut feeling.  For some people, the story is over, but other people really want to understand how this could have happened.  Personally, I don’t want to read any more stories about why Junior is running badly, hear from drivers who can’t speak more than three words without cussing (especially at people who are just trying to do their jobs), or hear that Danica has (still) not mastered the art of driving a stock car.  If you’re not interested, don’t read the articles, but don’t belittle those of us who find the nerdy tech stuff interesting.   It’s our NASCAR too.

Please help me publish my next book!

The Physics of NASCAR is 15 years old. One component in getting a book deal is a healthy subscriber list. I promise not to send more than two emails per month and will never sell your information to anyone.


  1. I think you did an outstanding job. Not sure you mentioned Board Member Janet Guthrie drove both Indy & NASCAR. I believe she qualified for Daytona 500. Her one problem in her day she understood aero & cars. She has a degree in aero engr. No dummy!

  2. I hope a lot of people see this, Diandra. You’ve done a great job of explaining the decision. As I’ve listen to Sirius NASCAR Radio since the ruling came out, it’s quite apparent that a lot of fans don’t understand what was being said in this decision. The panel misunderstanding RCR’s expert is the only thing that would throw this decision into question. That said, I have a difficult time believing that three panel members would all misunderstand. And if they did, that’s okay. It was the responsibility of the Dr. Manning to make sure they understood. Providing information in a way that is misunderstood is not much better than not providing the information at all.

  3. Great post as always. I do want to understand what happened, and I am more confused now than I ever was after reading the transcripts and statements, along with your explanation (which BTW, Thank You for…we know your plausible).
    It is unfathomable for me to think RCR or any other team, would take that car in knowing it was off base. That, in itself, just makes no sense to me. Neither does anything else today.
    I don’t want to read the “other stuff” either…I just want to understand, and no matter which way it is spun, I don’t. If it was a simple mistake, or misunderstanding, ( I believe that it is one or the other ), a measurement of 1/60 is a lot bigger than it used to be… In a few people’s live’s anyway.
    I am of the opinion that rule should be, “If it passes post race inspection at the track, it passes.”

  4. The push truck applied force to the left side when the #33 turned to go in the pits.. That would be the part to look at in the video. Did the rear wheels slid from the angle of the push? The forces would be added to this end of the car and has the greatest chance of producing damage… push trucks should only apply force in a straight direction, then allow the car to make the turn on its own…

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of the good information on this subject. You take it out of the subjective. I look forward to your follow up reports.

  6. So here’s an idea – with the tight tolerances in NASCAR these days, if I won a race, would it not be in my best interests to slam into the outside retaining wall during a burnout at high enough speed to cause a little sheet metal and steel frame damage such that any post-race inspection abnormalities could easily be attributed to this act and not any malice on the build teams part? Almost all winners have teammates, why not give a solid “victory shove” to the rear as well during the cool-down lap? This way you’re covered and can easily explain those 1/16″ variations? Just thinking out loud…

  7. This is more NASCAR BS. The car cleared before and after the race, with a fine tooth comb not 1 out 10 would clear AFTER the race, think about the bump drafting tracks or where caes are involved in minor scrapes. Childress is smart enough to have the 33 bump the wall on it’s burnout after the race if he had any thought of the car being wrong. Maybe Brian need the money to catch up his divorce payments

  8. Another pleasurable read by someone who has a good brain and is willing to use it. Keep them coming Diandra!

  9. Your efforts here are appreciated. Another question I’d toss into the mix is when did this turn into both sides being out of tolerance? Until this farcical hearing I guess I was going on the assumption that one side only was off. Also supposedly there was the evidence of the damaged quarter panel.

    What I really don’t like about these deals is how secretive NASCAR is about the specifics. As in this issue, all of a sudden it’s the whole rear of the car and not the single mounting point that RCR came well prepared to refute. To me it kind of feels like some misleading or sandbagging on NASCAR’S part. Go ahead and try to defend yourself and we’ll toss a ringer in that you aren’t prepared for. I also don’t like that the expert came away feeling like his expertise meant nothing. Then too RCR did make the claim that they used a GPS based device to twice measure the car before it left Welcome, so was that part of the presentation? That though is my only doubt in favor of RCR. I simply cannot believe that the team and especially Richard Childress was so lame that they took an illegal car! Plus NASCAR has no credibility at all after 45+ years of watching and participating.

    Thanks for your look into the brainiac side!

  10. This all really illustrates the sillyness of the COT rules package and specifications. Please read Mike Mulherns article – it is fantastic

    What it says, and I have said forever, is that any rules package that requires 3 days and temperature-sensitive lasers and GPS-enabled measuring devises (GPS to measure a car???) and a complete deconstruction of a car at the NASCAR tech facility to see if was legal at the track is WAY over the top. Combined with RFID chassis that have to be certified by NASCAR at their tech facility, the use of super-computer sims for suspension development and evaluation instead of plain old track-testing and it’s easy to see why there are no independent teams running competitively. I fail to see how all of this helps the manufacturers, other than exposure, and even the value of that is limited as these “stock cars” in no way represent production vehicles in look, function or even with a SINGLE part on a racecar. F1 has a much broader rules package that actually encourages ingenuity and developments in automotive technology that actually do make their way into production vehicles.

    And none of the above addresses the fact that the 33 passed exhaustive pre and post-race tech at the track, conforming properly to the “claw”, even after the wrecker and on-track incidents occured.

    I am a racer and I have always been a NASCAR fan, but the new NASCAR with its COT is sure not the showpiece of stock-car innovation that formed the basis for the entire sport. A very concise rules package (NASCARS’s cup rulebook is reportedly over 250 pages…), mandating the chassis specs, claw-confomance of the body with center-line conformation of the chassis to the body (gee only 4 points to measure and no GPS required…), combined with all the basics (safety, various weight specs for total, leftside and rear weights, width, heights and wheelbase, engine and driveline and basic suspension requirements) would actually allow for some out-side of the box thinking. The ABC-body specs for latemodel racing and some fairly acheivable engine-build specs make racing at a very high level relatively achievable for weekend warriors throughout North America. NASCAR, as the highest level of that ladder should be tighter and more exclusive, but it is now starting to kill itself.

  11. Thank you for taking the time to put that into english, and teaching us. I really found the original report quite boring and didn’t get every aspect, some of it seemed like scientific jargon. You made it actually understandable to me, and I really enjoyed your article.

    I totally agree, about people belittling others. I don’t find the nerdy tech stuff interesting, but I always look it over anyways as I married a nerdy tech guy and it’s funny how much really does seep in! LOL when someone asks me a question about these things it actually starts spouting out and I surprise myself! lol. I agree on the other things you don’t enjoy reading about either, but I think reporters have to cater to a wide range, and if you don’t like their articles there is a reporter out there you probably will. If not, shut your yap and write yourself! Then you will appreciate it so much more.

  12. Great article Diandra! Thank you for your analytical description of what was argued at the hearing. I personally choose to believe RCR’s side of the story, but that’s just one fan’s humble opinion. I find your articles to be very interesting and extremely educational…keep writing about our sport!

  13. As ever, you remain the only person who’s able to explain things in a way I’ll understand. Thank you so much for this comprehensive breakdown.

    Also, I find it funny that the chief argument for RCR at this time seems to be, “We’d have to be stupid to bring this car to the track.” Well, um, yes.

  14. This is a great analysis. I really appreciate your writing. I am a huge “nerd” and NASCAR fan so this is really fascinating. What I still don’t understand, and hope that you can help me figure out, is how the tolerances can be this specific for a car that just got banged around for miles? I mean, are these measurements done on the chassis (the “square parts” as you described), the chassis’ “round parts”, the sheet metal, etc? It seems like certain parts of the car are clearly going to get banged up during the race and, with that context, “the width of a quarter” (as they are saying) doesn’t seem like much wiggle.

    Again, I really appreciate all your writing and hope that you keep it up!


  15. I read this over on I read this over on Frontstretch, by Matt McLaughlin ((Frontstretch, com Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Dover-2 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin; Sept. 27, 2010) & feel that it plays a part in determining who wins the chase so I am including it.
    “Clint Bowyer probably sent Mark Martin dinner after Martin’s car was disqualified after qualifying for Dover. At least it deflected some negative attention away from the RCR team. Martin’s car was found to have rear shocks with illegally high internal pressures. So, what’s going on? Apparently, the trick to making the car of sorrow handle better is to get the back of the car up further in the air so the rear spoiler is in clean air. To do this during the race some teams, most notably the Hendrick cars that have been dominant over the last few years, are using trick rear shocks. When cold, as in pre-race inspections, the car sits at a legal height. As the shocks heat up during an event the gas within them expands, raising the rear ride height. The car might not pass the height stick test immediately after the race, but given a half-hour to cool off at rest the gas contracts and the car returns to legal height. Apparently, some other teams figured out what HMS was doing and have tried to mimic it. Now, some are getting caught.”
    Someone commented the following, “Isn’t it logical to think that the shocks on Mark’s car are on Johnson’s? I guess we’ll never know for sure. I guess they’ll let Johnson’s car settle before they measure it.”

  16. Ed – the female board member was actually Lyn St. James, and though a talented driver in her own rights, certainly does not have the eductaion that Ms. Guthrie has.

  17. I thought about a lot of the stuff in this piece… I’m also curious as to how the damage from the tow truck could have just affected the left side of the car. It looked like a pretty square shot. BTW- loved your book about NASCAR. I keep it as a reference for my own writing. Thanks for the explanation and your hard work.

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