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Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing receive L2 penalty for Atlanta part modification

Any NASCAR Cup Series owner/driver aspires to be like among the likes of Alan Kulwicki and Tony Stewart, but Brad Keselowski‘s tenure as one instead has him feeling like Michael Waltrip.

On Thursday, NASCAR handed down one of the largest points penalties in recent memory when it gave Keselowski’s #6 RFK Racing Ford Mustang an L2 level penalty. The car was found after Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway to have violated Sections 14.1 and 14.5 of the rulebook, which respectively concern vehicle assembly and body, in regards to the modification of a single-vendor part. Keselowski and the #6 have been docked 100 points in the driver and owner standings, respectively, as well as ten playoff points. Crew chief Matt McCall has been fined $100,000 and suspended for the next four races; engineer Josh Sell will fill in.

The Next Gen car, currently in its first season of action, stands out from its predecessors in that it relies on parts supplied to all teams from single suppliers; for example, every Next Gen car has radiator ducts made by Dallara, while all driveshafts are produced by Xtrac Inc. This is intended to reduce costs for teams as they would not have to manufacturer the parts themselves. To discourage them from tampering with such components, NASCAR introduced a new penalty system that targets infractions with stiffer punishments, which can go as far as to disqualify teams from making the playoffs in extreme circumstances. Disqualification is reserved for L3 level penalties, which are for egregious cases like counterfeiting or swapping out single-vendor parts with outside components rather than simply modifying them.

NASCAR did not specify which part of Keselowski’s #6, though the sanctioning body publicised that it broke clauses C and D of Section 14.1 as well as clauses A and D of 14.5; 14.5.d reads that “external surfaces of body panels may be wrapped or wrapped with paint applied to the wrap. Any external wrap or coating must be removable. Textured paint or vinyl will not be permitted.”

The 100-point penalty drastically drops Keselowski from sixteenth in the standings to thirty-fifth, the worst of all full-time drivers and trailing David Ragan and Garrett Smithley who have run two and three of five races, respectively. In order to make the playoffs, he would need to reach the top thirty in points and likely rely on a win. Even if he qualifies for the playoffs, he would already be in a hole due to his negative playoff points.

Keselowski’s points deduction is the largest since the introduction of the current points allocations in 2011. Larger penalties have occurred under the previous Latford points system; in 2009, a penalty for a slightly large engine at the All-Star Race cost Carl Long 200 points and gave him an indefinite ban from the Cup Series until he paid a $300,000 fine that he could not afford until 2017 due to his small team. Michael Waltrip Racing received a 100-point penalty during its maiden season in 2007 due an illegal fuel additive, followed by the Spingate controversy in 2013 that led to MWR being fined $300,000 and a massive fallout that sent the team on a decline until its closure in 2015.

RFK Racing, previously Roush Fenway Racing, assumed its current identity after Keselowski joined the team ahead of the 2022 season. Across the first five races, Keselowski has one top ten: a ninth in the season-opening Daytona 500. Prior to the 500, RFK swept the Bluegreen Vacations Duels with Keselowski and Chris Buescher, the latter of whom currently sits nineteenth in points with two top tens.

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