Opinion: Can We Just Start Stripping Encumbered Race Wins?

By: Toby Christie – @Toby_Christie

In the interest of being honest, I have to admit that when NASCAR announced during the offseason that if a race winning car failed post-race inspection at a high enough level that they would tag the victory as an “encumbered” win, I was a fan of the move. An encumbered win would result in point penalties, but more importantly the win would not count toward the driver’s total of ever important playoff points.

It felt like finally something was going to be happening to teams that decided to bring a tricked up car to the track to tack on more wins.

However, after seeing the process unfold a couple of times so far in 2017, I can’t help but feel like like I was naive for my initial thoughts on the new rule. In fact now I feel the rule is a load of crock.

This past Saturday at Michigan International Speedway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, William Byron looked to be heading to his first-career win. Then in an epic two lap shootout Byron was bested by Monster Energy Cup Series veteran Denny Hamlin by mere inches for the win. Fans hate when Cup guys win Saturday’s undercard race, but nevertheless at least they were treated to a thrilling finish to the race.

Then the ultimate punch to the gut occurred a few days later.

Hamlin’s car as it turned out had an illegal front splitter (a very important aerodynamic piece on cars at Michigan). As a result, Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 team was deemed to have an encumbered victory. Penalties were handed out as they should have been, but what about the second place finisher? No win for them. No automatic playoff berth. No trophy. No justice.

Had the competition not cheated, don’t you think that Byron could have gained the couple of inches he needed for the win last Saturday? So why wasn’t he awarded the win after the post-race inspection found the No. 20 team to be running an illegal race car?

What about Brad Keselowski who finished second to his teammate Joey Logano at Richmond in the Cup Series earlier this season? Logano had an encumbered win. What if Keselowski is eliminated in the playoffs this season by five points or less? The decision to keep Logano statistically as the race winner, despite his car being so illegal that NASCAR stripped away the playoff benefits of the victory, ultimately cost Keselowski — the first legal car in the field — a chance at bonus playoff points.

Why does NASCAR seem so hesitant to take a win away from a driver? It seems like common practice in the local short track ranks — even in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series divisions — to strip a win away for having a car that fails post-race inspection.

What the encumbered win ruling ultimately stems from is NASCAR never wanting fans to leave the track not knowing who won the race. This was Bill France Sr.’s (NASCAR’s original founder) thought process after an embarrassing and lengthy search for the true winner of the 1959 Daytona 500. Lee Petty beat Johnny Beauchamp in a photo finish, but NASCAR originally declared Beauchamp the winner of the race. After days of investigating photos from fans in attendance, NASCAR changed the winner of the race to Petty.

It was that day that France decided that he wanted NASCAR fans to always leave the track knowing who actually won the race. So even if there was an illegal part, or some kind of controversy, the winner would stay the winner once everyone left the track. The decision to go this route made sense back in the day.

In 1959, there was no such thing as social media. There weren’t televisions in every house. No internet. Some houses had a radio. And many relied on local news papers to fill them in on any pertinent news.

Fast forward to 2017, and race fans can’t check their email, text messages, Facebook or twitter without finding up to the minute news about the sport that they love.

So why is it that we are clinging to this old tradition of not stripping the win completely away when a car fails post-race tech? Let’s make a change.

Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images