NASCAR considered removing Chase Briscoe from playoffs but didn’t
NASCAR considered removing Chase Briscoe from the playoffs after Cole Custer’s actions on the last lap of Sunday’s race, but series officials found no evidence to penalize Briscoe.
Instead, NASCAR fined Custer $100,000 and 50 points, indefinitely suspended Custer’s crew chief, Mike Shiplett, and fined him $100,000 and penalized the team 50 owner points. Stewart-Haas Racing said Tuesday it would appeal the penalties.
Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday that two key factors kept Briscoe in the playoffs:
- Briscoe was in a position to advance to the Round of 8 on the final lap before Custer slowed, impeding others.
- No incriminating evidence was discovered on Briscoe’s team radio to suggest the No. 14 team was aware of Custer’s action.
“Once we looked at the all the points and the final consequences and realized … that it wasn’t going to change who advanced to the Round of 8,” the decision was made to allow Briscoe to remain in the playoffs, Miller said.
“We definitely spent a a lot of time listening to all of (Briscoe’s team radio) audio and there was not a word during the race about teammates or anything from the 14 car radio throughout the race. They were concerned (about the points) and keeping the driver up to speed, how the points were shaking out at different times during the race. … They were in some of the race and they were out some of the race.
“The only chatter (Briscoe’s team) had on the radio was where they were points-wise with the current running order, but nothing that we could even remotely point to as being any kind of scandalous conversation on the radio.
“I can’t say we didn’t talk about (removing Briscoe from the playoffs), but we ruled that possibility out pretty early in the process once we realized (Briscoe) would have been in either way.”
Briscoe was in the final transfer spot via a tiebreaker over Kyle Larson on the final lap while battling Austin Dillon and Erik Jones for position. As they headed down the backstretch, Dillon, Briscoe and Jones came upon Custer’s car, which dramatically slowed and impeded Dillon. Briscoe got by Dillon and Custer and went on to finish ninth, beating Larson by two points for the final spot in the Round of 8.
During the last lap, Shiplett told Custer on the team’s radio: “I think we’ve got a flat tire. Slow up. I think we’ve got a flat tire. Check up. Check up.”
Miller said those comments proved that Custer’s action on the backstretch was deliberate.
“The data was pretty telling, and then we got to the audio and had the crew chief telling the driver that ‘I think you’ve got a flat, check up, check up, check up’ when he couldn’t even see the car or have any idea whatsoever that the car might have a flat. Pretty telling as to what went on there. That coupled with the data and the video … nothing contradicted that that was done deliberately by those individuals. We were forced to react.
“We can’t have teams manipulating the finishing order. Certainly on super-high alert in the playoffs. Had this been the determining factor in (Briscoe) in making it in to the Round of 8 or not, our reaction certainly would have been bigger.”
NASCAR cited Custer and his team for violating Section 5.5 of the Cup Rule Book and failing to race at 100% of their ability ” with the goal of achieving the best possible finishing position in the Event.”
That section also states that “Any Competitor(s) who takes action with the intent to Artificially Alter the finishing positions of the Event or encourages, persuades or induces others to Artificially Alter the finishing positions of the Event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR. … “Artificially Alter” shall be defined as actions by any Competitor(s) that show or suggest that the Competitor(s) did not race at 100% of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the Event, in NASCAR’s sole discretion.
Miller was asked Tuesday how Custer’s actions differed from last year’s playoff race at Bristol when Chase Elliott impeded Kevin Harvick, who was leading at the time.
Elliott was upset with Harvick for making contact late in the race while they dueled for the lead and cutting Elliott’s tire. Elliott had to pit and was not on the lead lap when he was running ahead of Harvick on the track. Elliott’s actions helped teammate Kyle Larson catch Harvick and eventually pass Harvick to win that race.
Miller explained why Elliott was not penalized in that situation.
“I don’t believe anybody told Chase Elliott to block Kevin Harvick so that Kyle Larson could win,” Miller said. “That was a driver taking things into his own hands. Sketchy? Yes, but premeditated to alter the results of the race? Don’t think so. Quite a different situation there.”
Asked to explain where teammates helping each other goes too far, Miller said: “Involvement over the radio and instructions over the radio that they could not even be construed as anything else. Those are the things that you can’t overlook.
“Could we call it teamwork? Yes, teams work together, they draft together and do all kinds of things together and work as a team, but blatantly pulling over and changing the finishing order on the last lap is what makes it over the top and especially with instructions from the pit box.”
The Round of 8 begins Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).