Corey LaJoie loses crew chief for four weeks after Phoenix penalty
NASCAR issued a four-race suspension to crew chief Ryan Sparks and two other crew members of the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet after a wheel detached from the car Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.
The right-front wheel of Corey LaJoie’s car separated from the vehicle at Lap 45, incurring a penalty for violating section 10.5.2.6 of the NASCAR rule book: “Loss or separation of an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle.” LaJoie hit the outside retaining wall and drove to the garage.
Front changer Blaine Anderson and jackman Allen Holman join Sparks on the four-race suspension. They will next be able to participate at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race on April 17.
A Spire Motorsports spokesperson confirmed Friday the team will not appeal the penalty.
On SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Tuesday, LaJoie noted he doesn’t agree with how the rule is applied to teams, citing penalties against Front Row Motorsports’ No. 38 team, Kaulig Racing’s No. 31 team, and The Money Team’s No. 50 team. Front Row and Kaulig appealed their penalties but both penalties were upheld Wednesday.
“The rule was made to deter crew chiefs from telling the tire changers to hit three (lug nuts) and send it because it made the pit stop a second faster,” LaJoie said. “Now, you’re going to suspend a crew chief four races for what the right-front tire changer thinks they’re getting it tight. Ryan Sparks does not want to send our car with a loose wheel and stuff it in the fence and finish last, and also kill a whole car. The penalty is almost already divvied out before NASCAR even hands a penalty out.
“When you are laying a penalty, you also have to look at intent, right, because if the intention with hitting three lug nuts was a faster stop and the wheel comes off, yeah. That’s the crew chief’s call to hit three lug nuts. That is a team-wide decision to do. With one lug nut, it’s either on there or it is not on there. It’s not a competition advantage to not get a wheel tight anymore.”
In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Joe Gibbs Racing crew chiefs Jason Ratcliff (No. 18 team) and Jeff Meendering (No. 19 team) were each fined $5,000 for unsecure lug nuts following Saturday’s race at Phoenix.