There are tons of great lines about cheating and NASCAR, because the two go hand in hand. Legendary racer Darrell Waltrip has one of the funniest quotes: “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.”
The bottom line is that there is a lot of cheating that happens during the races, behind the scenes, and in the pits. These can be additions to the fuel that gives an edge over the competition, alterations of the car itself, the tires, the shape of the vehicle . . . the list goes on. That being said, many NASCAR fans and drivers and crews believe that the rules are too strict. There have even been boycotts surrounding NASCAR’s regulations. So it shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise that some racers want to get an upper hand on the competition.
NASCAR is very heavy-handed when it comes to doling out punishment. This is another thing that separates NASCAR from other sports: they can fine you, dock points from your total, and even negate your wins. In other sports, when it’s discovered a team has cheated, the organization might apologize, but the team still keeps their win. There’s no taking back points in a football game that’s already been played, for instance. That’s not true of NASCAR, which is why the punishments are often so severe.
Also, cheating gives the whole organization a bad name. You don’t want it to look like your star contenders are a bunch of vagabonds. Here are 20 vagabonds who gave the NASCAR a bad name by cheating and, more importantly, getting caught.
20 Mark Martin’s Too-Tall Car
NASCAR has very strict guidelines about the regulation size of every car that comes on their tracks. The penalty is steep if your car is too tall or too low. Back in Richmond in 1990, cars were beginning to slow due to fuel consumption and tire wear, while Mark Martin’s car was starting strong and fit without needing many trips to the pit. This caught the eye of the officials after he won by 1.5 seconds and led through the last 16 laps. Inspection showed his carburetor was a half-inch too tall, however, and he was fined a whopping $40,000 and docked 46 points on the season.
19 Jimmie Johnson’s Movable Mirror
When many drivers get caught cheating, they often blame their pit crew and say that they had no knowledge of the work done on their car. Whether this is true or not, it gives them some plausible deniability if and when they’re caught. Jimmie Johnson was one such notable driver after officials noticed that the rear window of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet had a movable device that unfairly aided his aerodynamics. This was at the Daytona 500 in 2006. Crew chief Chad Knaus took the blame and was suspended for four races, while Johnson got off scot-free and went on to win Daytona with a regular car, just to show that he didn’t need any “unfair aid” to win.
18 Jeremy Mayfield’s Funny Fuel
Talladega has an odd reputation in the racing world, and drivers have a reputation to get a bit wild there. Probably why they made a Will Farrell movie based on the race. Back in 2000, Jeremy Mayfield qualified for the race and was ready to go, but during inspection, it was discovered that his Penske-Kranefuss was tainted with forbidden additives. His fine was a big $50,000, but even worse than that, he was docked 151 points! This would appear to be a huge setback, but Mayfield was back on the track the very next week. This was Mayfield’s most famous violation, after having a slew of off-track problems.
17 Carl Long’s Engine Eruption
As you can probably tell, NASCAR gets pretty heavy-handed at times when doling out punishment. Carl Long was hit with the worst punishment of all time (especially for the crime committed) back in 2009, at the Sprint Showdown. It was discovered that his engine was 0.17 cubic inches too large, which is barely a measurable difference, but in the eyes of the officials, it was a dastardly sin. There weren’t even any points at stake during this race, but he was still hit with a stunning $200,000 fine, which was far more than he could afford. Fellow racers and fans protested his punishment, but the penalty stood. It took eight years for Long to finally compete for NASCAR again.
16 Glenn Dunaway’s Moonshine Mishap
This one goes way back to the olden days of moonshine running. The Strictly Stock Series was the precursor to the Sprint Cup, and even though the cars were slower than they are today, they still had some rule breakers. Glenn Dunaway won at the Charlotte Speedway, but then had his win stricken from the record when his 1947 Ford failed an inspection. It turned out that some heavy-duty rear springs had been installed on the car by moonshiner Hubert Westmoreland, and Dunaway was disqualified. Westmoreland tried to sue NASCAR but lost, and Jim Roper was declared the winner of the race.
15 Roger Penske’s Cagey Camaro
Roger Penske’s 1967 Chevy Camaro has a unique history in the world of motorsports cheating. In 1967, Penske and his star driver, Mark Donohue, made the ’67 Camaro into a top-level race car. Donohue was victorious in Las Vegas and Seattle, and stunned audiences with how it beat higher-end cars. It wasn’t until the end of the season when the officials figured out why: The Camaro had been modified with acid and other additives to shave nearly 500 pounds off its weight. It also had a roll cage to strengthen the frame, and it was modified some more in 1968 before it was declared the modifications were too much and it was disqualified from racing.
14 Jeff Gordon’s T-Rex Triumph Turned Tragedy
Jeff Gordon was huge in 1997, and when he hit the All-Star Race with a special car sponsored by Universal, to promote the new Jurassic Park sequel, his car got a lot of eyes. The movie’s logo was proudly splayed across the hood, and it had a great color scheme to go along with it. Gordon handled the car expertly, as he does, and beat out all the competition. Its few modifications included tighter springs at the rear and looser springs at the front. NASCAR felt the car was simply too fast, however, and banned the car from racing, saying that it would be unfair to other cars. Even when Gordon protested, claiming that it was a non-issue, the NASCAR stockholders won out—couldn’t have big name brands losing too many races. Today, those same modifications are common in most NASCAR cars.
13 Smokey Yunick’s Basketball Bamboozle
Smokey Yunick is infamous for the many ways he managed to cheat the system. He was a talented driver and mechanic, yet his legendary status came from his broad interpretations of the rulebook. He would often expand fuel lines a few inches to increase output, or “adjust” the springs a bit too much to get a leg up. One of his most creative cheats, however, was when he put a basketball in the gas tank. This allowed him to pass inspection, but then he deflated the ball to boost his car to record speeds. Not really sure how that one works, but you have to get the guy a hand for ingenuity.
12 The 1976 Daytona Trio of Trickery
It’s a big deal when one guy gets caught cheating at a NASCAR race, but it’s a whole other ordeal when it’s three of the top name racers getting caught, all in the same race! The 1976 Daytona 500 is regarded as one of the best ever—an amazing race highlighted by a duel between David Pearson and Richard Petty. But the bigger story was when A.J. Foyt, Dave Marcis, and Darrell Waltrip all had their qualifying times stricken when it was discovered they were using nitrous oxide to boost their horsepower. Who knows if they still would have won—there were a lot of big names there—but it sure made for a wild Daytona 500!
11 Joey Logano’s Suspension Success
Joey Logano is just like other NASCAR drivers, in that he wanted to make the history books. He unfortunately made the history books for all the wrong reasons, when in 2017 he pulled off a major win at Richmond after a disappointing season. He was happy with the win until NASCAR announced that his car had a rear suspension violation. Crew chief Todd Gordon was fined $50,000 and suspended for two races, and Logano was docked 75 points. He became the first person in NASCAR history to have their victory encumbered, meaning it stood, but with an asterisk next to it. Fans were baffled at the choice to allow the win to stand.
10 Junior Johnson’s Banana Bonanza
Back in 1966, the Ford Motor Company boycotted NASCAR over the organization’s strict engine regulations, sparking a huge event. Many drivers complied and bowed out of the races that year, but Junior Johnson decided to break rank and drive his own special car in the race. Nicknamed the Yellow Banana, it had its top chopped down three inches and the windshield sheered back 20 degrees. Its nose also almost touched the ground, making it so radically modified that Fred Lorenzen had to be lifted into the driver’s seat. The car was still allowed to race, and it stands out as one of NASCAR’s more unique rule-breaking cars.
9 Smokey Yunick’s Mini-Car Madness
Of course there’s more than one entry here with Smokey Yunick in the header. His philosophy was, basically, “It’s not cheating if they don’t say you can’t do it.” This questionable philosophy led to one of his most famous moments, at the 1967 Daytona 500, when he showcased a Chevrolet Chevelle that won the pole over far better brands. Many wondered how he won the race, and officials were suspicious. They measured the car and discovered that it was 7/8 the size of a production car! That meant that less air was slowing it down, allowing it to achieve huge speeds. Yunick argued that it wasn’t technically against regulations, but he was still disqualified.
8 Denny Hamlin’s Brickwell Breaker
Denny Hamlin has won two Daytona 500s, which is a hard feat to accomplish. Early in his career, however, he wasn’t seen as such a dominant racer. In 2014, he was bouncing back from a back injury, which led to some shortcuts. At the Brickyard 400, he finished third overall, and then had his car seized by NASCAR. The organization declared it had aerodynamic modifications in the rear firewall area, and Hamlin was docked 75 points, but he escaped without a fine. His crew took the brunt of the damage, with Crew Chief Darian Grubb and Car Chief Wesley Sherrill each earning a suspension of six races and major fines. Hamlin put the past behind him with his wins, though.
7 Ryan Newman’s Tricky Tires
One of the main differences between NASCAR tires and regular tires is that they use nitrogen instead of normal air. This leads to more pressure inside the tires as they heat up, improving performance and aiding in fast changes. In 2015, during an inspection, Ryan Newman’s tires were discovered to have a slow leak to bleed off extra air and remain at a consistent pressure, with less contact on the track. He and his crew were suspended for six races, and he was docked 50 points. Newman bounced back from his wayward ways, but this put a few of his other wins under a dark cloud that he never fully recovered from.
6 Jeff Burton’s Relocated Roof
Jeff Burton was a very esteemed racer when he started working for the legendary Jack Roush. While preparing for Talladega in 1997, Burton decided he would mess with the roof laps which Roush had invented (and had become standard in NASCAR). He relocated them five inches forward, which lowered the air drag and increased his speed. NASCAR officials reacted how you thought they might, by not only fining him $20,000 but also by cutting the roof off the entire car, to ensure that no one would try this again. Jack Roush was probably the most disappointed party of all, after his protégé went behind his back and did something so foolish.
5 Clint Bowyer’s Body Blowout
Clint Bowyer was the guy to beat in 2010, and after a win at the Chase Sprint Cup, racers had their eyes set on him. After the race, however, an inspected highlighted his failure to meet the correct body template specs, which gave his crew a suspension of four races and got him docked 150 points, essentially ruining his chances for the Cup. In 2013, Bowyer topped himself by deliberately spinning out to block Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon, allowing his teammate Martin Truex Jr. to win in Richmond. Since then, he’s been seriously unpopular amongst other racers and fans alike, although Bowyer himself might enjoy the bad press.
4 Richard Petty’s Tire Trade
Richard Petty is one of the most legendary racers, but he’s also had his time in the pits of cheaterville. The wild racer was known for his rule-bending, even though he won enough to show that he didn’t really need to cheat. One of Petty’s most famous cheats came at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1983, when he won the race, but a sharp-eyed inspector noticed that the tires on the right side of his car had left-side numbers. It was discovered that Petty had switched the tires, but way worse than that, it was also discovered that his engine was much larger than it should have been. He was somehow allowed to keep the victory but was docked 104 points and fined $35,000.
3 Ricky Stenhouse’s Ridiculous Roof
Ricky Stenhouse is probably most famous among NASCAR fans because of his tumultuous relationship with Danica Patrick. But when he found himself on thin ice with NASCAR officials in 2013, he was among the most famous names involved in the “roof flap affair.” The idea here was to loosen the main flap of the roof, which would cut down on the air passing by and increase aerodynamics, giving the driver an edge. Fans contended that Stenhouse went all out to make his car lighter for faster speeds, but NASCAR didn’t dole out too harsh of a punishment. They enacted tougher guidelines, to make it illegal to raise the roof.
2 Michael Waltrip’s Funky Fuel
Adding additives to fuel is one of the most common ways that cheaters are caught. Michael Waltrip is a fantastic racer, but he’s gotten into hot water multiple times with NASCAR for dubious activities. The worst was in 2007, when Waltrip was prepping for Toyota to enter the Sprint Cup series. His car looked good and his team qualified for the Daytona 500, but during inspection, the crew discovered that Waltrip was using an unspecified, oxygenating fuel additive to increase his performance. All the cars owned by the team were confiscated, and Waltrip and his team were hit with heavy fines. He still took part in Daytona, but this darkened his epic legacy.
1 Kevin Harvick’s Alteration Alienation
Kevin Harvick is another racer with a shadow clouding his legacy, and it happened as recent as 2018. After his dominating win at Las Vegas to put him in the lead of the Monster Energy Cup series, NASCAR announced that Harvick was being fined for his rear window and brakes both being altered. He bounced back in a big way, winning at the Texas Motor Speedway in November, but then NASCAR negated that win, too, after his car thoroughly failed a post-race inspection. Harvick was stripped of his spot in the championship series, and even though he claims “I just drive the car,” fans are suspicious of his repeated inspection failures and fines.
References: jalopnik.com, motorracingdigest.com, foxsports.com