Ricky Stenhouse Jr. heads to Talladega with crew chief facing suspension – Sporting News

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. likely will drive with a replacement crew chief this week at Talladega, and certainly with heightened attention to his car’s steering wheel.

That’s because NASCAR on Wednesday announced it suspended crew chief Nick Sandler one race, fined him $20,000 and placed him on probation through year’s end. Reason: violation of a rule governing the steering wheel coupler.

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Nick Sandler (via Twitter)

Sandler and Roush Fenway Racing might appeal, but car chief Mike Kelley has been Stenhouse’s chief before and could fill in with the No. 17 Ford for a race in which Sandler wouldn’t be all that necessary. Sprint Cup is at Talladega on Sunday, where the Geico 500 is a restrictor-plate race.

It would seem a no-brainer that every team would pay close attention to the connection that links the wheel to the column. Unlike your family Yugo, steering wheels on racecars detach.

The most recent incident involving a disconnected steering wheel came in March at Phoenix. Jimmie Johnson founding himself holding a wheel that had come off the column — and later admitted he had failed to connect the two securely before driving.

Stenhouse is nowhere near Johnson in 2016 current points or Sprint Cup success. Stenhouse stands 19th, three places off the Chase for the Sprint Cup field. Johnson is third and secure with two victories. Stenhouse has yet to make the Chase. Johnson, a six-time Cup champion, is in prime position to bid for No. 7.

According to a penalty spreadsheet released by NASCAR, Sandler violated Section 20.13.I-1.d of the NASCAR Rule Book that deals with the steering wheel coupling.

NASCAR’s explanation of Sandler’s penalty was vague, as it no longer explains itself in weekly announcements. What is known is this: Inspectors noted a problem with the coupler in Stenhouse’s car during opening inspections at Richmond. Under NASCAR rules, the steering wheel coupling “must meet the SFI 42.1 specification and display a valid SFI 42.1 label on the outside surface.”

Also written up for Richmond inspection problems: the teams of Johnson, for twice failing pre-race exams; and Tony Stewart, for two failed laser exams.

Stenhouse has two top-10 finishes and was 11th in Cup standings before problematic races the past four weeks.

Roush Fenway had no immediate comment on the penalty and was reportedly weighing its options.

Sprint Cup practice begins at 2:30 p.m. ET Friday at Talladega. Qualifying is at 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday, and Sunday’s race is about 1 p.m. ET Sunday.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. heads to Talladega with crew chief facing suspension – Sporting News