Kevin Harvick did not think he received appropriate penalty for violations found following his victory Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

NASCAR


AVONDALE, Ariz. — A frustrated, confused and critical Kevin Harvick calmly dissected the penalty issued to him and his team — and the impact of social media — for violations NASCAR found after his victory Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Harvick lost the seven playoff points he earned for sweeping both stages and winning the race as NASCAR determined Wednesday after inspection at its research and development center that his rear window did not stay rigid and his team had a steel instead of aluminum extension of the lower side skirt in his car.

Stewart-Haas Racing has until Monday to decide whether to appeal the penalty, which also included Harvick losing 20 regular-season points, his car chief Robert Smith getting suspended for two races and crew chief Rodney Childers getting fined $50,000.

The playoff points, which a driver carries through the first three rounds of the playoffs and can determine who advances, are the biggest deal. Harvick can’t use the win for playoff eligibility, but his win the previous week at Atlanta should get him into the postseason.

Harvick said he did not think it was an appropriate penalty, and said he didn’t think NASCAR would have penalized him if photos of his buckled rear windshield hadn’t appeared on social media.

“The car was built to tolerance,” Harvick said Friday before practice at ISM (formerly Phoenix) Raceway. “The scary part for me is the fact that we went far enough to find something on the car at the R&D center, which they could find something wrong with every car if they took it apart for a whole day at the R&D center.

“The side skirt material is on us. … That’s really the meat of what gave them the ability to actually get the [penalty] to where it was meaningful to appease everybody on social media.”

The 2014 NASCAR Cup champion said 20 cars could have been in violation of that rear windshield rule last week and cited more photos being put on social media from other cars at previous races. He said it confuses his friends that a penalty comes out Wednesday for a race Sunday.

“That’s a slippery slope because you see the repercussions of all the pictures and things that pop up from previous races and immediately show that’s not something that has ever been taken [into account] before — sometimes you feel like you get a bit [used as an example] proving a point, and I think that’s more the case than anything here,” Harvick said.

“I compare it to golf because [having fans call in violations] just failed miserably. … It’s tough when you feel like that part of the garage from the guys that know about the race cars and in there every day are being micromanaged by people who don’t know about race cars.”

Harvick wasn’t the only driver who feels that NASCAR is influenced by social media.

Former Cup champion Kyle Busch said NASCAR “absolutely” takes social media commentary and buzz into account when it makes decisions in the tech center. He said that it doesn’t set up the sport the best when leadership reacts to social media.

“I think what they see on social media also goes based off of driver penalties and other things as well, too,” Busch said. “There’s too many voices. Them, at the powers that be that are way higher than me, need to figure out how to shut that off and not pay attention to it sometimes and do what they think is best for the sport as what we’ve done for 60 years.

“It seems the last 10 [years] especially has been more so in listening to those that are watching it. And those that are watching it have way too many varying opinions. You’re not going to please them all.”

Joey Logano dismissed the notion that NASCAR makes tech decisions based on social media photos. Teams often analyze photos and video during race weekends and aren’t afraid to point something out suspect to NASCAR. Last year, Chase Elliott’s team was caught removing some tape from above a spoiler in the background of a television interview. Social media swirled afterward and Elliott’s team was penalized.

“Us as a race team, we’re going to see it either way,” Logano said. “It doesn’t change us, and I wouldn’t assume that NASCAR makes calls off of social media. I wouldn’t think that’s the case. I would think NASCAR is bigger than that.

“I think it just makes the story bigger when you see it all over social media. It’s not like a secret penalty or something that’s underneath the car and we’re all trying to figure out what’s that really do and you can’t really see it and you don’t know what it does. When it’s on the outside of the car, it’s pretty blatantly obvious. You can see something is different.”

Harvick led 214 of the 267 laps at Vegas. He said he felt he still would have won the race if the windshield hadn’t buckled or if the side skirt extension had been of the proper material, a rule put in place in mid-February. He said dips and ramps of the rear windshield is not something he would want.

“Same team, same window bracing, same roof, same side skirts, same everything,” Harvick said. “It was in the R&D center the week before. It has been there 49 times in three years.

“Technicalities. If you have to find a technicality that is that deep, that is the thing that is frustrating from a team standpoint. … You could call that penalty on any car in the field at some point. I have had window braces smashed in the front of my car, several times. They fail all the time in the front.”

He was OK with NASCAR officiating the sport — including, if it sees a window brace fail during a race, asking the team to fix it — but felt the new body scanning station that is used after the race should alleviate some of the questions on whether there will be anything found in the teardown Wednesday.

“It’s very confusing,” Harvick said. “The whole findings of the whole thing really started from the roof braces not working correctly in the car — that are not mandatory braces that exist in the back of the roof.

“That’s really what squished it down. The window bracing itself, there was no issue with. When you look at the perpendicular bar, there is no specific way that it has to be connected. Ours is connected.”

Harvick also questioned why his crew chief wasn’t suspended. NASCAR has started this year suspending the car chief, who often is responsible for the setup of the car.

“You have a huge penalty, but your crew chief doesn’t get suspended,” Harvick said. “There’s a lot of confusion in my mind.”

Harvick dropped from first to third in the standings with the 20-point penalty. He is one of the favorites to win Sunday at Phoenix, where he has won six of the past 11 races.

“We’re going to get over it,” Harvick said. “We’re going to move on. … It just motivates us. I can’t wait to win another race and jump up and down in Victory Lane on the back of my car.”



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