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NASCAR hammers Kyle Larson’s team; crew chief Chad Johnston suspended for three races

Kyle Larson and his team tried to push the envelope in Kentucky, but didn't stay within the rules, leading to penalties from NASCAR.

Kyle Larson dropped from the regular-season points lead Wednesday, suffering a 35-point penalty for a rear brake cooling assembly violation discovered after his second-place finish Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

Crew chief Chad Johnston was suspended for three Cup races and fined $75,000. The team also lost 35 owner points.

According to NASCAR’s penalty report: “The race finish is encumbered per Section
12.10 Encumbered Race Finishes. Ductwork or other devices are not allowed to pass from one area of the interior of the vehicle to another or to the outside of the vehicle.”

In a brief statement, Chip Ganassi Racing said it wouldn’t appeal: “We accept the penalty and will move forward.”

Kentucky winner Martin Truex Jr. (709 points) now leads the standings with eight races remaining in the regular season, 34 points ahead of Larson (675 points).

The regular-season champion will be awarded 15 playoff points, five more than the second-place points finisher. Truex, who has a series-high 13 stage wins, leads the circuit with 28 playoff points. Larson is tied with Brad Keselowski for third with 13 playoff points.

Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet had trouble in the technical inspection lines at Kentucky throughout last weekend. His car didn’t clear in time to make a qualifying lap for the third time this season (also at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway). The Ganassi car was the last to be rolled onto the grid Saturday night, about 35 minutes before the green flag.

Larson, who started last because of the inspection failure and competed a race-high 90 green-flag passes, was asked afterward if he wanted his team to keep pushing the limits inspection, given that NASCAR has been threatening to increase punishment from practice holds to a reduction of race tire allotments.

“I don’t know,” Larson said. “I like that (crew chief) Chad (Johnston) and them pushed the limits and all that. I don’t really know how the tech process works, and I don’t know what we get in trouble with. I don’t really pay attention to that stuff.

“Yeah, I mean, if they took tires away, that would be a huge penalty, so you’re going to have to clean it up a little bit to try and pass tech earlier than the fourth or fifth time you go through. But yeah, I mean, I like that. I like the dedication that our team has to try and push the limit, and I think it shows on the racetrack.”