When it comes to engines, no matter who it is involved or what it is, NASCAR does not want anybody messing with them.
I think that was clear in the penalties assessed Joe Gibbs Racing and driver Matt Kenseth on Wednesday, with the driver and owner each losing 50 points and crew chief Jason Ratcliff getting suspended six points races and fined.
NASCAR Sprint Cup director John Darby, president Mike Helton and vice president of competition Robin Pemberton have made it perfectly clear: There is no gray area, there is no room for mistakes, the rule book is black and white, and we’re playing off of the black-and-white rule.
It’s not going to be an interpretation, so don’t come to us and say, “We’re sorry, somebody made a mistake.” People will argue, “Three grams, one rod, there’s no performance enhancement there,” but I’m sure there’s always going to be someone else who will say there is.
So here’s NASCAR dilemma. I hate it for Ratcliff because I feel like this is one of the times a crew chief wants to be responsible, and he’s being responsible, for somebody else’s mistake. But there again, it still comes into play.
I know it’s frustrating, and I’m not saying I agree with it. But I do understand it.
It’s the one time I’m glad I’m where I’m at rather than having to work in that garage right now because there is no room for mistakes. We all know we want a level playing field, no matter who it is, no matter what the situation is. You want to feel like you’re going to be treated the same way that somebody else is.
I think it does bring into light what really needs to be done to try to address and fix a somewhat imbalance between who is responsible, especially in the engine department, compared to a crew chief. There might not be a solution, but it’s going to raise that question, and I think that’s something that maybe the folks at NASCAR — and I’m talking about Pemberton, Helton and Darby — may consider working on. But they’ve got to penalize the team in some way, shape or form.
So they’re just being consistent with what they’ve done all along. The crew chief is the ultimate guy.
Unfortunately for the No. 20 team, Matt Kenseth and everybody who’s worked so hard this year, it’s definitely going to put a black cloud over their season.