Matt Kenseth thinks NASCAR's penalties assessed to his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team for an illegal engine found in his race-winning car at Kansas Speedway were extremely unjust.
On Wednesday, Kenseth was penalized with a loss of 50 points. His crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, had 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. His victory there is not credited towards the eligibility for a driver wild card position in the playoffs. He was stripped of his pole win at Kansas as well.
The penalty also included 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.
NASCAR officials discovered the violations when they conducted a secondary post-race inspection on his engine at its Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. earlier this week. His car passed the initial inspection immediately after the 400-mile race at Kansas, but NASCAR took his motor back to Concord for further evaluation.
Officials found one of the connecting rods on Kenseth's engine did not meet the minimum connecting rod weight. Toyota Racing Development is the engine supplier for JGR's Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams. NASCAR noted in its news release of the penalties that "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."
"I think the penalties are grossly unfair," Kenseth said during a press conference on Thursday at Richmond International Raceway, the site of this weekend's Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races. "I think it's borderline shameful. There's no argument that the part was wrong. They weighed it, and it was wrong. However, there is an argument that there is certainly no performance advantage, if you can find any unbiased, reputable and knowledgeable engine builder. And if they saw all of the facts with what all the rods weighed.
"The average weight of all of the rods was well above the minimum two-and-a- half grams, at least. There was one in there that was way heavy. So there was no performance advantage, and there was no intent. It was a mistake. JGR had no control over it. To crush (team owner) Joe Gibbs like that and say (the racing organization) can't win an owner's championship with the No. 20 this year, I just can't wrap my arms around that. It blows me away."
TRD President Lee White said in a statement on Wednesday that one of the connecting rods on Kenseth's engine weighed in approximately three grams under the legal minimum weight. None of the other seven connecting rods were found to be illegal. White also said that TRD takes full responsibility for the engine issue and noted JGR is not involved in the process of selecting parts or assembling the engines in Sprint Cup.
Meanwhile, JGR is appealing the penalty, which allows Ratcliff to participate at Richmond. If the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel upholds the penalties, then JGR does have does have the option to make a final appeal in front of National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook.
Kenseth is hopeful the penalties will be overturned.
"That's what the hope is, and that's why it (appeal process) is set up," he said. "We'll just go through that and see what happens. Whatever the final verdict is we'll live with that and move on."
Whether or not JGR wins its appeal, Kenseth is still confident his team will make the Chase, based on their performance this season. The 12-driver field for the playoffs will be determined after the Sept. 7 race at Richmond.
"By (Friday) morning, I'm going to be ready," Kenseth said. "I think we're more motivated and determined than ever. We'll try to go out there and win a pole and try to win the race."
Kenseth's loss of 50 points dropped him from eighth in the point standings (-59 behind leader Jimmie Johnson) to 14th (-109). His first win this season came on March 10 at Las Vegas, in just his third start with JGR.