NASCAR teams hone in on engineering advantages

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- NASCAR changed the rules to eliminate the skew in the rear suspension in 2017. The idea: Make the cars harder to drive, and the real talent behind the wheel will shine.

In order to enforce the rules, NASCAR has had to kick some folks in the, ahem, rear.

The latest was Joey Logano, whose win Sunday at Richmond International Raceway won't count toward making the playoffs, and he won't get the valuable five playoff points that could determine how far he advances through the postseason.

That's because NASCAR determined the team's truck trailing arm was unattached -- the team says by about 1/32nd of an inch -- between its spacer and the pinion shim, violating the rule that requires it to be flush. The theory is that when it's not flush, the car is easier to drive through the corner.

According to the NASCAR rulebook, the sanction of not counting the win or awarding the playoff points was an automatic penalty. It's big, and it shows NASCAR's commitment to cracking down on rules pertaining to the rear suspension area.

On Friday, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series director Richard Buck wouldn't characterize this as a point of emphasis. He did say that the rulebook this year has a lot of additional detail and engineering language so NASCAR can enforce the rear suspension rules.

"It really is a natural progression in the sport," Buck said. "Anything that has performance related to it, the more performance you can gain from whatever element it is on the car we've seen through the years in the past, the teams will hone in on it.

"They're super-smart. Our job is to write the rules; it's our job to understand what is going on the garage, write the rules, the procedures and enforce them. And that's really what we've been doing."

If anyone knows that NASCAR has enhanced the rules in this area, it's Logano and his team. Their Penske teammate, Brad Keselowski, had too much rear skew in his car in March at Phoenix. His crew chief was suspended three races and Keselowski was docked 35 points, a penalty that Team Penske is appealing.

Earlier in the Richmond weekend, Logano was docked 30 minutes of practice time because he weaved during his cool-down lap after the previous race at Bristol. NASCAR views that as a way to get the rear suspension back into compliance after the race.

Logano said swerving had nothing to do with this issue. His crew chief, Todd Gordon, told SiriusXM Radio that the violation occurring on the right side of the car would not be related to manipulating skew -- that would occur on the left side of the car. With 2,500 pounds of torque, he told the network, the suspension bends, and while it was in compliance prerace, it wasn't in compliance postrace.

Don't think Penske is alone in experimenting with parts and pieces of the rear suspension. With the new NASCAR rules this season, teams are trying to create more rear skew and remain within NASCAR tolerance in postrace technical inspection. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after the race at Texas last month that his team needs to figure out what the Penske folks were doing by swerving postrace -- something that he said Friday wasn't a message for NASCAR to crack down but instead for his team to understand why Penske had an advantage.

"You can grumble about the Penske deal, but at the same time, it's impressive that they figured out something because the rules have gotten harder to make something happen with the changing they've made to the [rules for the] rear housings," Earnhardt said. "It's made it almost impossible to figure out to get anything back there to move around.

"When anybody does it in this environment that we have today, it's quite impressive."

Earnhardt said sometimes it is beneficial to not be the first team to discover something that helps the car. Sometimes the second iteration of the idea works better, and sometimes that comes at a more important time of the season. The lengthy history of manipulating rear suspensions -- remember when the cars would appear to crab-walk down the straightaways? -- has many in the garage with huge knowledge bases of how to, ahem, skew the rules to their advantage.

"If you know where there's speed, you've got to be crazy not to work in that area," Earnhardt said. "We saw a long time ago the benefits from skewing and yawing the cars, skewing the houses -- it's hard to remove the engineering and unlearn what we've understood and found to be competitive."

It's also a great place to find speed.

"Skew is the magic word," said Elliott Sadler, a full-time Xfinity Series driver who has vast experience in Cup. "Skew is speed. The No. 1 thing we know in our sport right now is if I can get more skew in my car than you can get in your car, I'm going to run faster than you. Period.

"There is no negative to getting skew in your car. That being said, teams are pushing the envelope. If NASCAR catches you, then they should penalize you."

As is typical, drivers say they can't worry about the tech issues because they don't handle them. Teams often don't take huge sides in this debate because they know they could find themselves in NASCAR's doghouse the next week.

"I know their infraction was pretty minor, but they did get hit with a big penalty, so yeah, I don't know," said series points leader Kyle Larson "But the five bonus points, still taking that away is definitely big."

Gordon said on SiriusXm that the team will have to look at its car setup procedures to avoid having a similar issue in the future.

"The way I look at it is we're successful right now," Logano said before practice Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, "and that's why our car has to go through tech, and that's just part of it. But we're going to have to push as hard as we can to be successful, and sometimes you go over that line."

Logano won't sweat it the next time his car goes through postrace tech.

"If I'm nervous or worried about that, I'm probably not focused in on my job and I'm probably not going to be the best race car driver I can possibly be," he said.