Mayfield Fuels NASCAR's WrathDateline: 05/02/2000
Today NASCAR announced that it was handing down one of the stiffest penalties in the history of the sport to Jeremy Mayfield and the Penske-Kranefuss racing team for "irregularities" found with the fuel taken from the car during post-race inspection after the April 16th race at Talladega.
The penalties announced today include a $50,000 for the team owner Michael Kranefuss and a suspension for crew chief Peter Sospenzo until after the June 4th race at Dover Downs. However the most severe of the penalties is the 151 points that were deducted from Jeremy in the drivers' standings and the 151 points that were deducted from Kranefuss in the owners points battle.
Apparently NASCAR discovered a violation of the Winston Cup rulebook that covers "the use of altered fuel or fuel other than the official fuel at the event." They found that an agent had been added to the fuel of the #12 car to increase it's oxygen content which results in higher horsepower for the oxygen-starved restrictor plate engine.
Given the potential severity of the penalties, NASCAR took the extra time required to double check their findings and make sure that this was a true infraction. Now, three weeks later, NASCAR has come to the unmistakable conclusion that this was a deliberate attempt to tamper with the Unocal 76 racing fuel.
The short term results are that Jeremy has fallen from seventh to fourteenth in the overall Winston Cup standings. He is racing without the help of his crew chief for the next four weeks. This will hurt his ability to climb back into the all-important top ten. Also, his car owner now has a little less budget to throw at researching legitimate innovations. Truly this is a crippling penalty.
On a larger scale today's announcement really serves notice to the other competitors that NASCAR considers the racing fuel to be sacred. Teams will now most definitely look elsewhere for innovations and gray areas of the rules to exploit. If the penalty would have just been some cash then the competitors might have felt that it was worth some money in penalties to help them out in the all-important points battle. But the severe points deduction will certainly make sure that teams do not follow in Penske-Kranefuss' footsteps.
The other less-tangible result of this ruling is that it helps reinforce NASCAR's credibility. Penske South racing is one of the big-dollar, high-profile teams in NASCAR and this ruling proves that even they are not above the rules. NASCAR works hard to maintain a level playing field for all competitors, today they gave notice that the contents of the gas tank are not negotiable.
Don't be too tough on the #12 team. This was one area of the rule book that had not yet been tested. Aerodynamics, suspension, brakes and tires have all been pushed beyond the limits of the NASCAR rulebook and the penalties for those infractions are well known and fairly predictable. Until today, no one really knew what the penalty for this type of violation might be. They took a chance, and lost.
Innovation is what separates NASCAR's elite from those who struggle to qualify each week. All teams work from the same rule book. The difference is in the interpretation and the risks that each team is willing to take to get an advantage. Now, everyone knows that the fuel is off-limits so teams will focus on some other area of the rule book in an effort to find the extra .005 seconds per lap that can make the difference between finding Victory Lane or going home empty.