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The Optimal Penalty of Height Infractions in NASCAR

2007 September 24
by Phil Miller

From NASCAR.com

Carl Edwards‘ race-winning No. 99 Ford failed post-race inspection following Sunday’s Dodge Dealers 400 at Dover International Raceway, which could lead to penalties assessed against the Roush Fenway Racing operation later this week.

…Edwards hopes some post-race bumping from teammate Greg Biffle is the cause for the infraction.

“The worse case would be 25 points, the right-rear being low — any engineer or crew chief in the garage will tell you that’s the last thing you want,” Edwards said. “You want the right-rear to be high.

That seems sensible since that’s the side of the car lowest to the ground going into turns (assuming an otherwise level car).

“The only thing I can think of is at the end of the race, Greg came up and gave me a couple of love taps to say ‘good job, good race’ and hopefully they find that that bent the tail of the car down a little bit. There are some braces bent under the decklid so hopefully that’s what it is.”

A similar infraction occurred at New Hampshire in July, when the cars of Johnny Sauter and Kyle Busch failed to meet minimum height requirements. NASCAR took away 25 points apiece and fined each crew chief $25,000.

If a similar penalty is assessed, Edwards would drop from fourth to sixth in the Nextel Cup standings.

If so, NASCAR is justified in docking some points from Edwards. If NASCAR does nothing, this sends a signal to racing teams that they can do some minimum damage to lower a car without worrying about getting docked points. If NASCAR goes too far, they give an incentive for racers in future races to strategically bump leaders to gain an advantage that is outside the realm of competition.

What’s the optimal penalty? I can’t answer that with much precision, but since there is statistical error inherent in determining the cause of the infraction, if the evidence points to a benign reason, then the benefit of the doubt should go to Edwards (and I’m not saying that because Edwards is a former student of mine :-)).

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