<
>

France vows to maintain the integrity of crew chief penalties

NASCAR plans to address the issue of suspended crew chiefs continuing to do their jobs from locations at the track but outside of the garage.

Crew chief Tony Eury Jr., for example, reportedly worked with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team last weekend from a motorcoach parked on a hill outside New Hampshire International Speedway as he completed a six-week suspension.

NASCAR chairman Brian France said that insults the integrity of the penalty.

"We just had a meeting about that," France said during a Tuesday afternoon conference call. "We will be, if that all is accurate, addressing that shortly."

France did not expand on what may be done. A crackdown could have an immediate impact on plans for the Hendrick Motorsports teams of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

Crew chiefs Steve Letarte (Gordon) and Chad Knaus (Johnson) are in the second week of a six-week suspension that began after NASCAR ruled their cars failed initial inspection at the road course in Sonoma, Calif.

France did say that NASCAR is willing to suspend drivers if it has to.

"We'd like not to get to [suspending drivers]," he said. "We'd like to make
the deterrent, a portion of the penalty, significant enough that
that isn't necessary for us to do.

"But are we willing to go there? Of course we would. We have in
the past and we will in the future. We're not hoping to do that.
That's sort of a death penalty."

Overall, France is satisfied that NASCAR is doing everything it can to discourage cheating, particularly when it comes to the Car of Tomorrow.

Beyond the suspensions to Eury, Letarte and Knaus for tampering with the COT, the crew chiefs were fined $100,000 each and the drivers and owners docked 100 points each.

"We feel very strongly that we're going to be very, very tough on people that test us with the Car of Tomorrow," France said. "The whole premise is built around not being able to do much fudging with the car."

While France said NASCAR will continue to escalate penalties for COT violations, he said they will not be customized to impact teams differently, based on the number of points they have. Gordon's and Johnson's teams could better afford a 100-point hit than some others.

Gordon remains atop the standings with a 156-point edge over Denny Hamlin and Johnson remained in the top five after their teams were penalized.

Despite the suspensions, Gordon finished second and Johnson fifth on Sunday at New Hampshire.

"The teams that are winning, despite what we may fine them, they are just good teams," France said. "They're going to win when they race with the same rules package everybody else has.

"They get through any kind of adversity to a point. ... We can't just customize the penalty based on the circumstance. Meaning, the [Gordon] car that has compiled a bunch of points, we can't just say that is going to be 200 instead of 100 because he has a big lead. But we can find the right penalties."

David Newton covers motorsports for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.