There's an old saying, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” The original source of this saying is hard to attribute - it has been used in many sporting situations to justify actions - but few sports have as many rulebreakers and cheaters as NASCAR.
NASCAR has its roots in bootlegging - drivers had to outrun the cops, and so it was only natural that they modified their cars, and this would be transferred to the early days of NASCAR. Modifications of stock cars were the name of the game, and those who were more creative and better at finding the right balance between engines, suspension, and aerodynamics were usually the ones who won. While rules have gotten stricter and NASCAR is coming down harder than ever on cheaters, there are still plenty of teams and drivers who stretch the rules more than just a little bit.
20 Tim Flock's Wooden Roll Cage
In an effort to save weight in his stock car in 1952, Tim Flock built a roll cage made entirely out of wood and painted it to look like it was regulation steel. It goes without saying that having a wooden roll cage wouldn't be of much use in an accident. Flock is perhaps the perfect example of how some drivers are willing to sacrifice everything for a win.
19 Smokey Yunick's 11-Foot Fuel Line
Smokey might have lived in the gray area of the rule book, but he always maintained that he followed the rules when they were clear. When NASCAR started regulating fuel tank size, Smokey installed a regulation-sized fuel tank. However, the size of the fuel line wasn't regulated. Smokey made a 2" fuel line that was 11 feet long - capable of holding an additional 5 gallons of gas.
18 Richard Petty's Tires And Engine
Richard Petty crossed the finish line for an easy victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1983. NASCAR inspectors found that Petty's crew had put left-side tires on the right side, and vice-versa - which gave Petty a nice, if brief, advantage. For an even bigger advantage; Petty's engine measured 381.983 cubic inches, compared to the legal 358. Petty ended up being fined and docked 104 points, but he was allowed to keep the victory.
17 Smokey Yunick's Size Trick
According to urban legend, Yunick built a 7:8 scale version of Curtis Tuner's Chevelle, but that's an exaggeration. Yunick actually moved the body back on the chassis to improve weight balance and aerodynamics, he raised the floor to enhance airflow, and modified the roof and glass openings to create as little drag as possible. Even though it looked like it, the car was no longer a stock Chevelle.
16 Jimmie Johnson's Adjustable Rear-Window
When Jimmie Johnson won his first Daytona 500 in 2006, he did so without crew chief Chad Knaus, who was sent home from Daytona International Speedway, fined $25,000, and suspended for four races. During the post-qualifying inspection, the rear window of Johnson's No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was found to have a device mounted to it that changed its angle, making it more aerodynamic.
15 Ken Schrader's Seattle Smokescreen
Ken Schrader was competing in a short track event in Seattle and realized his tires wouldn't last the few laps that stood between him and the checkered flag. He "simulated" an engine failure by firing his in-car fire extinguisher out the window. Thinking the smoke was a sign his engine was about to blow, his competitors backed off just enough to let him first across the line.
14 Clint Bowyer's Body Change
Clint Bowyer won the first race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at New Hampshire in 2010. But his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet failed to meet body template specs after the race. Bowyer lost 150 points to a NASCAR penalty, and his crew chief and car chief each were suspended for four races. The penalty all but killed any hopes Bowyer had of winning the championship that year.
13 Waltrip's Heavy Metal
NASCAR weighed the cars before the race to make sure they were at the minimum, but not after. Darrell Waltrip filled the frame rails with buckshot to meet the weight requirements. During the race, a trap door in the frame rail would open, and the buckshot would scatter behind him. However, one time they fell out as Waltrip was driving down pit lane, pelting other teams and NASCAR officials.
12 Smokey Yunick's Basketball In The Gas Tank Trick
NASCAR mandated how much gas the tank could hold, so Smokey inflated a basketball in an oversized fuel tank. During inspection, they filled up the tank which would appear to conform to regulations. After passing the tech inspection, Smokey would deflate the ball, pull it out of the tank, and fill the regulation-plus-basketball-sized fuel tank for the race - giving him a nice fuel capacity advantage.
11 Clint Bowyer's Spin
At the 2013 Richmond race, Clint Bowyer, with no chance at the Chase himself, mysteriously spun out, causing a late caution that knocked other drivers out of a Chase spot and put his teammate, Martin Truex Jr. in. NASCAR decided Bowyer had spun out on purpose, took the spot away from Truex Jr. and gave it to Newman - who would have won the spot if the caution had not occurred.
10 Junior Johnson's Various "Modifications"
Junior used to say he wasn’t exactly "cheatin'", he was just "creatin.'" Junior came from the old school of racing, getting his start as a moonshine runner for his father. Modifications were part of the game for him. A few notable ones include a four-race suspension for using a bigger engine in 1991. In 1996 he received a fine for not having welded the intake manifold.
9 Junior Johnson's Yellow Banana
Ford Motor Co. began the 1966 season boycotting NASCAR over engine regulations. But Junior Johnson broke ranks with the other Ford teams. Johnson's 'Yellow Banana' had a chopped roofline, slanted windshield, and wildly contoured fenders. Miraculously, it was permitted to race. Rumors were that Johnson was promised by NASCAR founder Bill France that the car would be allowed to race no matter what.
8 Michael Waltrip's Performance Fuel
Michael Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 winner was involved in what was called one of the biggest cheating scandals in modern NASCAR racing history. After qualifying, Waltrip's car was found to have tainted fuel, with a mysterious performance-enhancing substance discovered in its fuel cell. NASCAR suspended Waltrip's crew chief indefinitely, seized his car and fined him 100 points. He raced his way into the 500, anyway.
7 Mark Martin's Carburetor Spacer
In 1990, after winning in Richmond, Martin’s Roush Racing Ford was disqualified due to a carburetor spacer that was too tall. Martin expressed frustration with the ruling, claiming it didn't give him an unfair advantage. He was fined $40,000, the largest fine in NASCAR history at the time, and docked 46 points - which ultimately cost him the championship and as well as losing sponsors.
6 Jeremy Mayfield's Illegal Fuel
Back in 2000 at Talladega, the fuel in Jeremy Mayfield's Penske-Kranefuss was found to be illegally tainted with unapproved additives. Mayfield certainly wasn't given a slap on the wrist with a $50,000 fine and getting docked 151 points. But he went out the next weekend at Auto Club Speedway and won the race.
5 Ryan Newman's Drilled Tires
In 2015, NASCAR hit Richard Childress Racing and Ryan Newman hard with penalties after tires taken from the No. 31 RCR Chevrolet after the Auto Club Speedway race were found to have been illegally modified to slowly release air. Newman was fined 50 points and his crew chief, engineer, and tire specialists were all suspended for six races.
4 Carl Long's Displacement
The most brutal NASCAR penalty ever is perhaps the one they hit low-budget racer Carl Long with back in 2009. After practice for the Sprint Showdown, a non-points, last-chance qualifying race to get into the Sprint All-Star Race, Long's engine was found to be 0.17 cubic inches too large. He was fined $200,000 and 200 points. In 2017, Long announced he and NASCAR had reached an agreement so he could return to the Cup Series garage.
3 A.J. Foyt, Dave Marcis, Darrell Waltrip Used Nitrous
At the 1976 Daytona 500, the top three qualifiers, A.J. Foyt, Dave Marcis and Darrell Waltrip, were caught using nitrous oxide. Waltrip said: "If you don't cheat, you look like an idiot. If you do it and you don't get caught, you look like a hero. If you do it and get caught, you look like a dope. Put me in the category where I belong."
2 Jeff Burton's Roof Flaps
Jeff Burton's Roush Racing Ford Thunderbird showed up at Talladega with a heavily modified roof. The roof flaps, which, ironically, team owner Jack Roush had invented, were relocated five inches forward - which was against the rules. Sections of the roof were also lowered to provide improved aerodynamics. NASCAR officials were so angry with the roof-flap modifications that they cut the roof off the car entirely, destroying it.
1 Glenn Dunaway's Bootlegger Springs
NASCAR's first race in the Strictly Stock Series, the precursor to today's Sprint Cup Series, took place at the old Charlotte Speedway in 1949. Dunaway won, but his 1947 Ford failed post-race inspection. Team owner Hubert Westmoreland, a moonshiner, had installed illegal heavy-duty "bootlegger rear springs" designed to keep the rear-end up with a couple hundred gallons of "shine in the trunk." Westmoreland sued NASCAR and lost.
Sources: Jalopnik, Fox Sports, Popular Mechanics