NASCAR has decided to increase the tolerances for postrace measurements, eliminating all lower-tier penalties and only issuing a penalty if it reaches the point where suspensions would be issued and a win would not be allowed to count toward advancement in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Wednesday's decision is retroactive to Sunday's race at Chicagoland Speedway, meaning that winner Martin Truex Jr. and 12th-place finisher Jimmie Johnson will not be penalized for being outside the rear alignment tolerances by a minimal amount.
Without a penalty, Johnson remains eighth in points. With the 10-point penalty he would have received, Johnson would have fallen into a tie for 12th in the standings.
NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell said the decision was made so that all penalties are equitable. Under the previous structure, Truex virtually would have no penalty, because he won the race to automatically qualify for the next round of the Chase, while Johnson would have had a major 10-point penalty that could have put his ability to advance to the next round in jeopardy.
"We recognized if we were to apply those penalties as we listed them out for the event, those penalties would not have the same impact on the competitors based on the Chase format and the increased emphasis on win bonuses [to advance]," O'Donnell said Wednesday.
"If you look back as to why we created the deterrent system, we put [it] in place to ensure that we had a level playing field for all 40 cars that were competing in the event; and in this case, if we applied those penalties, the postrace penalty would not really treat each competitor fairly."
NASCAR faced a major perception issue with its previous three-tiered penalty scale, where it appeared there was an incentive to cheat -- as long as a driver won. O'Donnell said he feels the industry believes the Truex and Johnson infractions were minor in nature. All of the cars passed inspection prerace, and teams design the cars to bend and adjust at race speed and loads in the turns.
"I feel like everybody's close to the same box when it comes to that [postrace measurement]," said Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth earlier in the day, before the new structure was announced. "I don't really feel that is the difference between winning and losing.
"But cars are close to the same speed right now, and it's all the little things that make a difference, and you can't be just so conservative you give it up. You have to be able to get right next to the rule."
O'Donnell also announced that every Chase car would go through the postrace measurement inspection station. Previously, it was the top-five and select others.
If a car does fail postrace measurements at the standard NASCAR set last week as its most egregious violation, it would be a 35-point penalty, a three-race suspension for the crew chief and a $65,000 fine for the crew chief. If the car had won, the driver would not be allowed to use the win to advance to the next round of the Chase. A win is worth 44 or 45 points, depending on whether a driver leads the most laps.
NASCAR will find out if that penalty is enough of a deterrent.
"I'm pretty sure that if they said if it didn't meet the [measurements], you could never race again the rest of your life, everybody would pass afterwards," Kenseth said. "There is a way physically to get it to pass afterward, but how much performance are you going to give up to take a guess [of] we think it is going to move this much in a race under normal wear and tear?"