NASCAR handed down severe penalties to Matt Kenseth's No. 20 team in the Sprint Cup Series on Wednesday for failing post-race engine inspection following last Sunday's event at Kansas Speedway.
Kenseth, who won the 400-mile race at Kansas, was penalized with a loss of 50 points. His crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, has been fined $200,000, suspended from NASCAR competition for six points-paying races, as well as next month's all-star event (non-points), and placed on probation until Dec. 31. Car owner Joe Gibbs was docked 50 points as well.
Furthermore, Kenseth's win at Kansas will not earn him bonus points toward eligibility and seeding for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. A driver who qualifies for the Chase is awarded three bonus points for each of his or her wins during the 26-race regular season. Those bonus points are added to the accumulated aggregate driver points total (2,000) following the conclusion of the Sept. 7 event at Richmond International Raceway. Kenseth's win at Kansas is also not credited towards the eligibility for a driver wild card position in the playoffs.
Kenseth's pole win last Friday at Kansas will not be allowed for eligibility into the 2014 Sprint Unlimited (preseason, non-points race) at Daytona International Speedway. It was his first pole victory of the season.
Also included in the penalty is the owner's license for the No. 20 car being suspended until the completion of the next six point races, making the team ineligible to receive championship car owner points during that period of time. A loss of five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Manufacturer Championship points has been assessed to the team as well.
According to a news release from NASCAR, "The No. 20 car was found to have violated Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4J (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules); and 20-5.5.3 (E) (Only magnetic steel connecting rods with a minimum weight of 525.0 grams will be permitted; connecting rod failed to meet the minimum connecting rod weight) of the 2013 rule book."
There were multiple reports on Wednesday morning of the engine in Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota failing inspection after the Kansas race.
ESPN.com reported the violation was discovered during a secondary post-race inspection, which was conducted at NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. Kenseth's car passed the initial inspection, but NASCAR took his engine back to its R&D center for further evaluation. Following an event, the sanctioning body normally takes the winning car and randomly chooses another car for additional inspection in Concord.
The Associated Press also reported the engine in Kenseth's car failed during inspection at the R&D center, noting one of the eight connecting rods did not meet the minimum weight requirement.
Toyota Racing Development is the engine supplier for JGR's Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams. TRD President Lee White said one of the connecting rods on Kenseth's engine weighed in approximately three grams under the legal minimum weight of 525 grams when NASCAR did a routine post-race tear down of Kenseth's car and engine in Concord. None of the other seven connecting rods were found to be under the minimum weight.
"We take full responsibility for this issue with the engine used by the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team this past Sunday in Kansas," White said in a statement. "JGR is not involved in the process of selecting parts or assembling the Cup Series engines. It was a simple oversight on TRD's part and there was no intent to deceive, or to gain any type of competitive advantage.
"Toyota is a company that was built on integrity, and that remains one of the guiding principles of the company. The goal of TRD has always been -- and will continue to be -- to build high-performance engines that are reliable, durable and powerful, and within the guidelines established by NASCAR."
Officials from JGR said they will appeal the penalty. That will allow Ratcliff to participate in this weekend's race at Richmond.
"It is our understanding that one of the eight connecting rods on the engine was ruled too light," JGR officials said in a statement. "We are working with our partners at TRD on this issue. In the meantime, we will plan to appeal the penalty."
Kenseth's loss of 50 points dropped him from eighth in the point standings (-59 behind leader Jimmie Johnson) to 14th (-109). The 2003 series champion is in his first year with JGR after spending 13 full seasons with Roush Fenway Racing. His first victory this season came on March 10 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The penalty for Kenseth's team comes one week after NASCAR handed down stiff penalties to Penske Racing's No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) and No. 22 (Joey Logano) teams for unapproved suspension systems and components found on their cars during pre-race inspection on April 13 at Texas Motor Speedway. The penalties included a loss of 25 points for both Keselowski and Logano and six-race suspensions for seven team members. Penske is appealing the penalties, and the hearing has been scheduled for May 1.
The last time NASCAR came down hard on a Sprint Cup team for an engine violation occurred in May 2009 when officials discovered that Carl Long had an illegal engine in his car during the all-star race weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. NASCAR claimed his motor "exceeded the maximum engine size of 358- cubic inch displacement." Long received a 12-race suspension and docked 200 points (under the old points system). His crew chief was fined a then record $200,000.