Rockingham Speedway has not hosted a NASCAR race since 2013, but turning laps there has left Mike Harmon with a significant disadvantage entering the 2022 Xfinity Series season months before the new year has even started. On Monday, NASCAR announced Harmon has received an L2 level penalty for violating the sanctioning body’s rules on testing, which he intends to appeal. Also announced during the day was Caesar Bacarella‘s indefinite suspension for violating the substsance abuse policy.
A week ago, Harmon brought his #74 Mike Harmon Racing cars to Rockingham for a charity event. Despite the function’s benign nature, NASCAR ruled Harmon’s participation as violating Seciton 5.1.a.c.d of the rulebook that prohibits using current vehicles in non-NASCAR-sanctioned tests. As a result, Harmon has lost 75 driver and owner championship points for the 2022 season, leaving him in the negative with three months before the opener. Crew chief Ryan Bell has also been fined $75,000 and suspended for the first six races of the year.
Harmon’s penalty drew comparisons to fellow Xfinity driver Alex Labbé‘s punishment in 2020 for driving his DGM Racing car at a Sports Car Club of America test on the Daytona Road Course. However, Harmon drove on a track that NASCAR does not currently race at while Labbé’s SCCA event came weeks before NASCAR’s first foray on the configuration. Regardless, Labbé’s appeal was successful.
“Today, we were notified by NASCAR that they handed out sanctions against MHR, Crew Chief Ryan Bell and the use of the 74 car at an exhibition charity event at Rockingham,” read a statement from Harmon. “This was not an intentional attempt to circumvent the rules that NASCAR has in place to ensure the integrity of the sport. In the over four decades of being in motorsports, I’m shocked at the penalties that were imposed on our team. We will be appealing NASCAR’s ruling as we are dedicated to the Xfinity Series, our great partners, fans and our supporters.”
While Harmon has raced in the Xfinity Series since 1996, he significantly decreased his starts in recent years as MHR has hired permanent drivers. He finished thirty-ninth at Martinsville in his lone start of 2021.
The one-mile North Carolina oval was a regular stop on the Cup Series calendar until 2004, and a Camping World Truck Series date only lasted two years. Despite going through financial turmoil in the near two decades since its last Cup race, many fans have called for NASCAR to return. The State of North Carolina has plans to allocate funding to various speedways in the state including the dilapidated North Wilkesboro Speedway, with Rockingham expected to receive $9 million that will go towards renovation.
Meanwhile, Bacarella was found to have broken Sections 12.1; 19 regarding substance abuse. He has raced part-time in the Xfinity Series since 2017, and will become a co-owner of Alpha Prime Racing beginning in 2022.
“Caesar was noticed by NASCAR earlier this month he had unknowingly taken a workout supplement on the banned substances list,” said APR co-owner Tommy Joe Martins. “He has fully complied with NASCAR, already enrolled in the Road to Recover[y] program, and we fully expect him to be suiting up for Alpha Prime Racing at Daytona in February.”