It was obvious from Joe Gibbs’ demeanor Friday that the big penalties handed to his racing team by NASCAR this week have hit him in the heart.
Gibbs was forward-thinking but subdued in a Friday afternoon press conference at Richmond International Raceway. He addressed the raft of penalties his No. 20 team received after Matt Kenseth’s engine failed inspection after last week’s Kansas Speedway race, and their possible impact.
The Gibbs team is appealing the penalties.
“When something like this that’s this big happens, I worry more about the people around you,” Gibbs said. “In coaching, I worried more about the management, the fans. I feel the same way about this one. I think I’m more focused on how does it affect all of our partners and our employees. This is very, very important and probably one of the bigger things that’s happened in my life professionally.”
Gibbs said the team accepts the fact that the Kenseth engine was outside the rules but said he is appealing the penalties because he believes they are too severe based on the circumstances. A connecting rod in the engine, which was built by Toyota Racing Development, was too light.
“In looking at that motor and where all the connecting rods were placed and the weight of all the connecting rods, when you have motor experts look at it, basically what they would say is there is no advantage of having that one light rod in that motor,” Gibbs said. “That’s one thing that’s very, very important to me. The intent here was not to get an unfair advantage in any way.”
Gibbs said his team, which formerly built its own engines, will continue to use engines supplied by TRD.
“We have a great partner in TRD,” he said. “Over the six years we’ve been together, a lot of things come up. We’re going to stand together and work our way through this.”
Gibbs said no decisions have been made about operations of the No. 20 team if the appeal fails. Included will be a seven-race suspension for crew chief Jason Ratcliff, who is continuing to work while the matter is under appeal.
“That’s just something we’re going to deal with,” Gibbs said. “It’s still fairly recent. We haven’t had long to look at and kind of deal with it. … Whatever the outcome is, we just have to make good decisions and try to deal with it.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.