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RCR upset Ryan Newman team penalties reduced instead of removed

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Richard Childress Racing will make one final appeal of NASCAR penalties issued to Ryan Newman's team for tampering with tires in the Sprint Cup Series race March 22 at Auto Club Speedway.

A three-member NASCAR-appointed appeals board reduced the points penalty and fine Thursday but left the six-race suspensions to crew chief Luke Lambert, engineer Philip Surgen and tire specialist James Bender. NASCAR announced Friday night that RCR had appealed that decision to NASCAR's final appeals officer, former Gulfstream executive Bryan Moss.

Moss has not set a date to hear the case and has deferred the suspensions, allowing Lambert, Surgen and Bender to return to the racetrack Saturday after missing Friday practice and qualifying at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The appeal doesn't come without some risk to RCR since Moss could reinstate the original penalties. The appeals panel reduced the points penalty to Newman and the team from 75 to 50 points and Lambert's fine from $125,000 to $75,000 because it determined the postrace technical infraction escalator (25 points, $50,000) did not apply in this case. The tires were taken during the race, and the panel decided that NASCAR rulebook language doesn't clearly define whether that would be considered a postrace infraction.

The procedure for a final appeal is much like the initial appeal except Moss has access to all materials and a transcript of the first hearing. The burden of proof also switches from NASCAR to the team to prove that it either did not commit the act or that the penalty is too severe. NASCAR determined the violation was a P5 on its P1-to-P6 scale of infractions.

"While they decided to reduce the penalties [Thursday] to the minimum penalties for a P5 violation, I am disappointed that the entire penalty was not overturned given the facts we presented," team owner Richard Childress said in a statement Thursday.

Bleeding air from tires, typically done by puncturing a small hole in them, is considered both a competition and safety issue. Teams could gain an advantage with a tire that has better grip, as air leaking out of the tire compensates for the air pressure building in the tire throughout a green-flag run. But bleeding air also puts the team at a slight risk of having the tire go flat.