NASCAR suspends crew chief Cliff Daniels for four Cup races for loose wheel infraction at Sonoma

NASCAR issued a major penalty to the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 entry piloted by the reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Larson and led by the reigning championship-winning crew chief Cliff Daniels for a loose wheel infraction at Sonoma Raceway that occurred this past weekend on June 12.

The incident occurred during the final 28 laps at Sonoma, where Larson had just exited pit road following a green flag pit stop and was making his way through Turns 1 and 2 when the right-front wheel came off of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Despite going off course through Turns 3 and 3A, Larson managed to limp his car back to pit road and went on to finish 15th of the 36-car field in an event where he started on pole position, leading the first 26 of 110 laps and won the first stage.

The loose wheel penalty that occurred on the course, however, was enough for Daniels along with crew members Brandon Johnson and Donnie Tasser to be suspended for the following four Cup events, beginning at Nashville Superspeedway on June 26 followed by Road America on July 3, Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 10 and New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17. Following the penalty report, Hendrick Motorsports has elected to not appeal the penalty and will announce Larson’s interim crew chief for the following four events at a later date.

This marks the 10th time through the first 16 scheduled events where a Cup Series team was penalized with a four-race suspension of a crew chief and select pit crew members due to a lost wheel coming off of a car during an event. The most recent incident of a lost wheel occurred at Kansas Speedway in May when Kaulig Racing crew chief Trent Owens along with rear-tire changer Jonpatrick Kealey and Jackman Marshall McFadden were suspended for four events, including the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway in May and this past weekend at Sonoma, due to a wheel that detached off of driver Justin Haley’s No. 31 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that was exiting the pit stall. Currently, Haley’s team remains the only one that has been penalized twice for a lost wheel. Their first incident occurred during this year’s 64th running of the Daytona 500, where Owens, McFadden and front tire changer Jacob Nelson were all suspended for the following four events. Owens is scheduled to make his return atop the pit box at Nashville.

Other driver-team duos that have been penalized for a loose wheel infraction include Kaz Grala for The Money Team Racing during the 64th running of the Daytona 500 in February, rookie Todd Gilliland for Front Row Motorsports at Auto Club Speedway in February, Corey LaJoie for Spire Motorsports at Phoenix Raceway in March, Bubba Wallace for 23XI Racing at Circuit of the Americas in March, BJ McLeod for Live Fast Motorsports at Talladega Superspeedway in April, Denny Hamlin for Joe Gibbs Racing at Dover Motor Speedway in May and AJ Allmendinger for Kaulig Racing that also occurred at Dover.

Another team that was issued a penalty following last weekend’s event at Sonoma was the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Ford Mustang team that was piloted by Cody Ware. The team was penalized 20 Cup driver and owner points following four pre-qualifying inspection failures, which sent Ware to the rear of the field and resulted with him serving a mandatory pass-through penalty through pit road following the start of the event. The team’s engineer Steve Gray was also suspended for the duration of the Sonoma weekend. Ware went on to finish 32nd and a lap down behind the leaders.

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season enters a one-week break period before returning to action at Nashville Superspeedway on June 26. Coverage for the event is scheduled to commence at 5 p.m. ET on NBC.

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