NASCAR to crew chiefs: Don't flaunt it -- or penalties could mount

Updated: July 6, 2007, 2:24 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Warning to suspended crew chiefs: Come to the track if you dare. Just don't brag about it or let somebody see you unless you want to extend your suspension.

That was the message delivered by NASCAR on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

"Personally, I don't care if he's watching a race from the grandstands,'' Nextel Cup series director John Darby said. "When a crew chief that went through that is bold enough to throw it back at us, we'll react to it.''

NASCAR chairman Brian France said on Tuesday that the governing body had a meeting to address the issue of suspended crew chiefs who continue to do their jobs from locations at the track but outside of the garage.

The meeting came after Tony Eury Jr., the crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr., said he worked with the team last week at New Hampshire from a motorcoach on a hill overlooking the track.

Eury said on Thursday he was at five of the six races -- including three in a motorcoach in the infield and one in a suite at Lowe's Motor Speedway -- after NASCAR suspended him for having an illegal rear wing mount at Darlington.

The only race he missed was the road course event in Sonoma, Calif., because he didn't want to ask the motorcoach driver to make a cross-country trip.

While NASCAR officials said it is almost impossible to police such activity, they said crew chiefs seen at the track during a suspension could face at least an additional two weeks.

"Theoretically, most penalties written severe enough to include a suspension also include a probation,'' Darby said. "If Tony Jr. keeps running his yap we could easily send him home for another six weeks.''

A suspension means the person is not allowed to enter the garage, be on pit road, be in a spotter's stand, in a scorer's stand or use two-way radios to communicate with the driver and crew.

"All of those are things you have to have a valid NASCAR license,'' Darby said. "Working with the teams, that's where we felt comfortable policing.''

NASCAR officials were aware that other crew chiefs have been going inside the track or to a nearby location to remain involved with the team.

Kasey Kahne's crew chief, Kenny Francis, said he watched the first four races from a hotel near the track.

"We were just told not to flaunt it,'' he said.

Eury's comments about watching last week's race in which Earnhardt finished fourth apparently came off as flaunting to France.

"We'll have to look into it now,'' Darby said. "That could be possibly turning the wick up and then holding the line a little tighter. But when all is said and done, all that is going to do is make them dig deeper into a hole. It's America. You can't stop somebody from coming to a town.

"Yes to what Brian says. We'll look into it deeper, throw the fear of God into everybody and hope they don't be seen at the racetrack.''

Darby then alluded to a possible ulterior motive for Eury.

"I'm not so sure Tony Jr. wasn't trying to mess up Chad and Steve,'' he said of Chad Knaus [Jimmie Johnson] and Steve Letarte [Jeff Gordon], in the second of a six-week suspension for violations discovered at Sonoma.

Eury said he simply played within the rules NASCAR gave him.

"It's kind of blown up in the last week, making a big deal out of it,'' he said. "This kind of shows you the man at the top knows what's going on. I know he's pretty mad about the whole deal.''

Eury said even if NASCAR found a way to keep crew chiefs from the track it wouldn't prevent him from doing his job.

"I did the same thing from my house at Dover that I can do here,'' he said, noting he left Dover and went home after it was apparent the race would be delayed a day by rain. "The biggest thing is you can't hear the radio chatter.''

But Darby insisted banning the crew chief from the garage is the harshest penalty.

"You can run out in the parking lot and tell the crew chief what my right front tire looks like, but unless that crew chief is physically there to look at that right front tire the message isn't going to get across,'' he said. "The suspensions in my mind are still effective.

"They're just as effective as if the guy is in the parking lot or the guy is at home.''

Gordon, who finished second last week without Letarte on the pit box, agreed.

"With the communication we have these days, we're going to talk to them,'' he said. "[But] they're not going to be up on the box calling the race and that's taking away from our race-day activity and our whole race weekend.

"We're still serving a penalty. Just because we're able to still be in some kind of communication with them doesn't mean we're not still suffering from the loss.''

Gordon said Letarte and Knaus won't be at Daytona this week because it's an impound race and the dynamics of having an extra set of eyes on location aren't critical.

He wasn't sure about next week at Chicago.

"All I can say is that we are going to go by the guidelines that they set forth,'' he said. "We stuck to exactly what they told us we could do. That's why our crew chiefs were at New Hampshire. We didn't do anything that we were told not to do.

"We haven't decided what we can do going forward. If they change those regulations, then we'll live by them.''

David Newton covers motorsports for ESPN.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter