One of the most famous quotes in NASCAR belonged to the legendary Darrell Waltrip: “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.” Waltrip’s words seem to have resonated throughout NASCAR and it’s obvious cheating happens a lot.
Every driver wants that little advantage that can make all the difference in a race and one-up another guy. To be fair, some of NASCAR’s rules can be rather strict and it's little surprise some racers want to sneak by them. However, NASCAR has been coming down harder on such rule-breaking as it gives the entire organization a bad image.
It is common for cars to be found breaking one violation or another. Most of the time, it’s just something minor like the wrong lug nuts, poor window placement, or another minor issue that NASCAR makes a big fuss over. However, some totally break the rules, giving a huge advantage to the driver and just blatantly cheating.
Often, some of these drivers, crews, and owners are hit with major fines—although a few sneak off with a slap on the wrist. It is notable how some cars seem to go all out to really break the rules and the owners still think they can get away with it. These aren’t just minor violations but rule-breaking that brought serious consequences. Here are 20 NASCAR race cars that are famous for breaking the rules.
20 Joey Logano: Cumbersome Car
Every NASCAR driver wants to make history in some way. Joey Logano would probably much prefer he wasn’t one of them. In 2017, Logano managed to pull off a major win at Richmond after a disappointing season. He was quite happy until NASCAR announced that his car had a rear suspension violation. Crew chief Todd Gordon was fined $50,000 and suspended for two races while Logano was docked 75 points. The bizarre thing was that Logano became the first person in NASCAR history to have their victory encumbered, meaning it stood but with an asterisk to it. Fans and other racers were baffled at the odd choice that remains one of a kind for NASCAR.
19 Kevin Harvick: Cheating Ways
Kevin Harvick should have been happy in March of 2018. His dominating win in Las Vegas put him in the lead for the Monster Energy Cup series and he wanted to continue that momentum. Just hours after the race, NASCAR announced that Harvick was being fined for his rear window and brakes both being altered. Harvick seemed to bounce back by winning the Texas Motor Speedway in November, only for NASCAR to negate that win, after his car thoroughly failed a post-race inspection test, and strip Harvick of his spot in the championship series. Harvick claims “I just drive the car,” but it’s suspicious how he keeps getting caught cheating and his crew keeps paying the price more.
18 The 1976 Daytona 500 Trio
It’s one thing to have a major race where one guy pulls off a huge cheat. It’s another when it’s three of NASCAR’s biggest names in the exact same race. The 1976 Daytona 500 is still held as one of the best NASCAR events ever, a thrilling race highlighted by the classic duel between David Pearson and Richard Petty. However, a bigger story occurred earlier on, when A.J. Foyt, Dave Marcis, and Darrell Waltrip all had their qualifying times disqualified when it was discovered each was using nitrous oxide to boost their horsepower. The revelation got the entire race off on a wild note and showcases how cheating minds tend to think alike.
17 Michael Waltrip: Faster Fuel
While Michael Waltrip is revered as a fantastic racing champion, his team has gotten themselves into hot water several times with NASCAR for some dubious moves. One of the biggest was in 2007, as Waltrip was prepping for Toyota to enter the Sprint Cup series. At first, Waltrip’s car looked good and his team qualified for the Daytona 500. But during inspections, the crew discovered that Waltrip was using an unspecified, oxygenating fuel additive to increase performance. All the cars were confiscated and Waltrip and his team were hit by some very heavy-duty fines. Waltrip still took part in the Daytona but this is just one of several moves that shadow his legacy.
16 Smokey Yunick: Basketball Car
In the annals of racing, Smokey Yunick remains one of the most notable cheaters in history. He was a very talented driver and mechanic, yet is legendary for his broad interpretations of the rulebook. His tricks included expanding the fuel lines a few inches to increase output and he wasn’t above some “adjustments” in the springs. Hands down, the most creative cheat had to be when he put a basketball in the gas tank. You read that right. This allowed him to pass inspection but Yunick then deflated the ball to boost his car to record speeds. Even the most rule-bound NASCAR fan has to give props to how creative this guy was.
15 Ricky Stenhouse: Roof Flap
Ricky Stenhouse has earned some infamy among NASCAR fans thanks to his (to be fair) tumultuous relationship with Danica Patrick. However, Stenhouse found himself in hot water with NASCAR officials in 2013 when he was one of the most famous names involved in the roof flap affair. The idea was to loosen up the main flap of the roof, which would cut down on the air passing by and give the driver an advantage. Many fans contend that Stenhouse really went all out to make his car lighter for faster speed. While NASCAR didn’t dish out penalties, Stenhouse and others have been forced to adhere to tougher guidelines to show that raising the roof isn’t always a good thing.
14 Jeff Gordon: T-Rex
If ever a car was ahead of its time, this was it. In 1997, Gordon hit the All-Star Race with a special car sponsored by Universal to help promote the new Jurassic Park sequel. The movie’s logo dominated with its great color scheme. Gordon handled it like a dream, roaring out to beat out all competition. It had modifications that included tighter springs at the rear and looser at the front—but nothing too serious. However, NASCAR felt the car was simply too fast to be allowed to race more because it would be unfair to other cars. Gordon and his team protested, but the ruling stood. Today, many of those innovations are common in NASCAR and the car is seen as only breaking the rules of its time.
13 Richard Petty: Swapped Tires
It was only a matter of time before Richard Petty showed up on this list. The ever-wild racer was known for his rule-bending, although his driving skills didn’t mean he had to cheat too often. Without a doubt, Petty’s most famous cheat was at the at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1983 He won the race but an eagle-eyed inspector noted the tires on the right side of Petty’s car had left-side numbers. Sure enough, Petty had switched the tires. A much bigger deal was when an inspection showed the engine measured much larger than it should have. Petty was allowed to keep the victory but was docked $35,000 and 104 points. It’s a rare tarnish to the King’s crown.
12 Roger Penske: Camaro
This has become a very hot car for collectors due to its unique history. In 1967, Roger Penske and his star driver, Mark Donohue, got a 1967 Camaro and made it into a top-level race car. Donahue rode it to victories in Las Vegas and Seattle and it amazed folks with how it beat out higher-end cars. At the end of the season, officials finally discovered why. The Camaro had been modified with acid and other bits to drop nearly 500 pounds off its weight. It also possessed a roll cage to strengthen the frame. They modified it a bit more to compete in 1968 before it was declared the modifications were too much and it was disqualified. A few models remain prizes at auction due to their infamy.
11 Clint Bowyer: Spin Artist
It looked like Clint Bowyer was going to be the guy to beat in 2010. He won the first race in the Chase Sprint Cup series and seemed ready for more wins. But after the race, an inspection showed Bowyer’s car failed to meet the correct body template specs. Bowyer was docked 150 points and his crew was suspended for four races. This pretty much ruined his chances for the Cup. In 2013, Bowyer topped himself by deliberately spinning out to block Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon and allow teammate Martin Truex Jr to win in Richmond. That got him some seriously bad press and has made Bowyer not very popular among other racers.
10 Glenn Dunaway: Moonshiner
We’re going way back in time for this one. The Strictly Stock Series was the precursor to the current Sprint Cup and while the cars were old-fashioned by today’s standards, they had their strengths. Glenn Dunaway appeared to have earned the win at the Charlotte Speedway, only for it to be negated when his 1947 Ford failed an inspection. It turned out owner Hubert Westmoreland, a good old-fashioned moonshiner, had installed some heavy-duty rear springs. Dunaway was disqualified and Jim Roper was declared the true winner. Westmoreland tried to sue NASCAR but lost. This one shows how cheating in the sport is hardly a new thing.
9 Jeff Burton: Roof Ready
It takes a truly daring cheat to alter the very design your boss created. Jeff Burton was already an accomplished racer when he started doing work for the legendary Jack Roush. Prepping for Talladega in 1997, Burton thought it would be okay to mess with the roof laps which Roush had invented and became standard for NASCAR. He relocated them five inches forward, which helped lower the air drag and increase his speed. Some might argue NASCAR officials slightly overreacted. Rather than just fine Burton, they literally cut the roof off the entire car. They also fined Burton $20,000 to ensure no one would try this roof trick again.
8 Carl Long: Minor Engine, Major Fine
Some fans complain that NASCAR can go a tad overboard on some of their punishments. Never has the punishment outweighed the crime than with Carl Long. In 2009, the low-level racer was practicing for the Sprint Showdown when it was discovered his engine was 0.17 cubic inches too large. That’s a difference that's barely measurable and there were no points at stake at all. To the shock of everyone, NASCAR hit Long with a stunning $200,000 fine, which was far more than he could afford. Fellow racers and fans protested that this was way too much but the penalty stood. It took eight years for Long to finally compete for NASCAR again. It baffles many fans that the largest fine in NASCAR history was for something so tiny.
7 Ryan Newman: Tire Trick
NASCAR tires are different than others as rather than normal air, they use nitrogen. This leads to more regular pressure inside the tire as it heats up, which improves performance and aids in fast changes. In 2015, during an audit, 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 with the track. Newman was docked 50 points and his crew was suspended for six races. The driver has bounced back but this was a very troubling turn and put a few of his past wins under a cloud.
6 Jeremy Mayfield: Funny Fuel
Talladega is a place where NASCAR racers tend to cut loose a bit more than other racing forums. The place itself is known for an odd reputation, so maybe it’s no shock that racers tend to get funny there, too. In 2000, Jeremy Mayfield seemed to be ready to go at the race, having qualified for the pole. But during an inspection, it was discovered that Mayfield’s Penske-Kranefuss was found to be tainted with unapproved additives. Mayfield was fined $50,000 and docked 151 points. It wasn’t a long-lasting punishment, though, as Mayfield was right back on the road the very next week. He’s gotten infamous for some off-track problems but this was Mayfield’s most famous violation.
5 Denny Hamlin: Brickwell Breaker
Denny Hamlin is an excellent racer, as proven by two Daytona 500 wins. However, some of Hamlin’s early career moves weren’t as stellar. In 2014, he was bouncing back from a back injury, which might have led to some shortcuts. At the Brickyard 400, Hamlin finished third overall. Right after the race, NASCAR seized the car and declared it had aerodynamic modifications in the rear firewall area. Hamlin was docked 75 points but escaped major punishment. His crew wasn’t so lucky, as crew chief, Darian Grubb, and car chief, Wesley Sherrill, were each suspended for six races and hit with major fine. Hamlin has proven himself as a driver able to put this behind him.
4 Jimmie Johnson: Moveable Mirror
Often, the drivers claim to have no idea of any modifications to their car. While it’s up in the air how true that is, it is arguable that some of their crew do it without their knowledge—perhaps to give them plausible deniability if they’re caught. Such a case was for Jimmie Johnson at the Daytona 500 in 2006. After Johnson qualified, officials discovered that the rear window of Johnson's No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet had a movable device, which unfairly aided aerodynamics. Crew chief Chad Knaus took the blame and was suspended for four races. Johnson went on to win the Daytona with a regular car to show he didn’t need any help to earn a victory.
3 Smokey Yunick: Mini-Car
Smokey Yunick’s philosophy was best summed up as, “It’s not cheating if they don’t say you can’t do it.” This led to what’s, no doubt, his most famous moment in NASCAR. At the 1967 Daytona 500, Yunick showcased a Chevrolet Chevelle that shocked everyone by managing to win the pole over far better brands. It was a huge surprise, with many wondering if this could take the race. Officials were suspicious, so they measured it out and discovered the reason for the car’s speed was that it was ⅞ the size of a production car. That meant less air slowing it down so it could achieve those speeds. While he argued it wasn’t technically against regulations, Yunick was still disqualified, which just added to his legend.
2 Mark Martin: Too-Tall
Today, a fine of $40,000 may not seem too terrible. Back in 1990, however, that was a huge sum and required a major violation to warrant the punishment. At Richmond, veteran drivers were faltering due to consumption of fuel and wear on tires. However, Mark Martin was surprising many by staying strong and not needing as many trips to the pit. He managed to pull off the win by a second and a half after leading the final 16 laps. Martin’s victory was short-lived, though, when an inspection showed his carburetor was a half-inch too tall. Besides a fine, Martin was also docked 46 points. Some felt the punishment was a bit too severe yet it's notable how just one half of one inch could cost Martin so dearly.
1 Junior Johnson: Yellow Banana
In 1966, a major event occurred when the Ford Motor Company boycotted NASCAR over the organization’s engine regulations. Many drivers complied and bowed out of the races that year. Junior Johnson broke ranks to drive his own special car in the race. Nicknamed the Yellow Banana, it had its top chopped down at least three inches and the windshield laid back 20 degrees. With its nose nearly touching the ground, the car was so radical that they had to lift Fred Lorenzen into the driver’s seat. The car was still allowed to race and today stands in the NASCAR Hall of Fame to show one of the more unique rule-breaking vehicles in history.
Sources: Fox Sports.com, Jalopnik, and Motor Racing Digest.