The theme of NASCAR's offseason has been one of change and that continued Tuesday with the announcement of a revamped penalty system designed to create transparency.
Called the "Deterrence System," NASCAR will now classify technical infractions in one of six predetermined levels with penalties increasing in severity depending on the offense. Penalties will continue to encompass the loss of practice time, fines, points deductions and/or suspensions.
The severest P6 infractions will involve violations pertaining to engines, tires, fuel additives and unapproved chassis modifications. These offenses carry penalties of up to a 150-point loss, $200,000 fine, six-race suspensions of crew members and, if found in post-race tech, the loss of a win that would count towards Chase for the Sprint Cup eligibility.
Additionally, the restructured system takes into account an offender's previous violations, giving officials the option of increasing penalties up to 50 percent for someone who is a repeat offender. NASCAR will rule on behavioral transgressions separately.
"Our goal is to be more effective, fair and transparent in both areas, and we believe that the system is tailored to fit the needs of the sport," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. "It's never our intent to penalize, but in order to keep the playing field fair for everyone, we recognize that strong rules need to be in place.
"The new deterrent system is going to provide a clear path for our competitors to fully understand the boundaries while shoring up some gray areas which may have been in existence, again, all in an effort to be as transparent as possible."
The sanctioning body also dismissed John Middlebrook as chief appellate officer. Middlebrook, a former executive for General Motors, greatly reduced several prominent cases within the last few years including penalties handed down to Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing. NASCAR officials stressed this was not the reason for removing Middlebrook.
Bryan Moss, a former president of Gulfstream, replaces Middlebrook.
"I wanted to clearly state that Bryan's appointment is not a result of recent appeals outcomes or because of the changes to the Chase," O'Donnell said. "Revamping the governance model is something we've looked at now over the last 18 months, and we felt the timing was right to put these practices in place."
To alleviate any potential conflicts of interest, track owners/operators will no longer be included on the three-member appeals panel. NASCAR cited a case last year where the president of Pocono Raceway heard a case involving Roger Penske, who was working in conjunction with track officials to promote an IndyCar race.
"The rule book will now clearly define the appeal procedure," O'Donnell said. "We believed that we've had one of the best processes in sports to settle disputes, but also wanted to modernize our procedures and continue to provide as much transparency, fairness and impartiality as possible.
"In the past, as you all know, certain decisions may have put some panel members in tough situations, and we wanted to alleviate that conflict of interest and provide a clear path to better understanding the ever-emerging science and technology arenas surrounding our sport today."