Penske Racing had the suspensions for seven of its members reduced on Tuesday after NASCAR issued heavy penalties to the team for rules violations that occurred last month at Texas Motor Speedway.
National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook heard Penske's final appeal at NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord. Middlebrook, who is a former General Motors executive, upheld the fines and loss of points assessed to Brad Keselowski's No. 2 and Joey Logano's No. 22 teams for illegal parts found on their cars during pre-race inspection on April 13 at Texas.
However, Middlebrook reduced the suspension period for those team members from six points-paying races to two. They will not be allowed to participate in race activities at Darlington Raceway (May 11) and Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 26), as well as the all-star event at Charlotte (May 18). Their return will be the first weekend in June at Dover International Speedway.
"After looking at all the facts and data and interpretations from the rule book, I have decided to uphold the original fines and points penalties," Middlebrook said in a statement. "However, I have decided to reduce the suspensions of the seven team members involved from six points races and the all-star race to two points races and the all-star race."
NASCAR handed down the penalties four days after the infractions were discovered at Texas. Keselowski's crew chief, Paul Wolfe, car chief, Jerry Kelley, team engineer, Brian Wilson, and team manager Travis Geisler, as well as Logano's crew chief, Todd Gordon, car chief, Raymond Fox, and team engineer Samuel Stanley had been placed on suspension for six races. Wolfe and Gordon were also fined $100,000 each and placed on probation until Dec. 31. Keselowski and Logano were both docked 25 driver points. Roger Penske, who is listed as the owner of the No. 2 car, and Walt Czarnecki, the owner of the No. 22 car, received a loss of 25 points as well.
"Obviously, I'm very happy with the outcome," Penske said shortly after Middlebrook made his decision. "I think that this sport has been built on innovation. All of us try to innovate in areas that are not defined in the rule book. We were in that area, and to me at this particular time, we'll go to the track at Darlington without our key members. We have a really strong bench, and these folks will be at the track. We'll make the announcement later in the week.
"To me, it's past us now, and we'll move on. And I would have to say that the process was very fair and equitable that NASCAR was able to provide for Penske Racing and our whole team."
Six days ago, the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel heard Penske's case. The three-member panel included former NASCAR executive Paul Brooks, Pocono Raceway President and CEO Brandon Igdalsky and Bowman Gray Stadium operator Dale Pinilis. They unanimously upheld the penalties. Penske then filed for a final appeal in front of Middlebrook.
"I think you all know that I took full responsibility for the issue," Penske said. "The team reviews with me things we're doing when we're working in a gray area, so from my perspective, I said we had to state our case. And the good news is that the process within NASCAR is very fluid. The chance to come to two different hearings on your appeal I think is major in sports. And the fact that our facts could be delineated specifically and in detail I think made a big difference. To me, that's the important part of this appeal."
When NASCAR announced the penalties, it noted the No. 2 and No. 22 cars "were found to be in violation of Sections 12-1; 12-4J and 20-12 (all suspension systems and components must be approved by NASCAR.
"Prior to being used in competition, all suspension systems and components must be submitted, in a completed form/assembly, to the office of the NASCAR Competition Administrator for consideration of approval and approved by NASCAR. Each such part may thereafter be used until NASCAR determines that such part is no longer eligible.
"All suspension fasteners and mounting hardware must be made of solid magnetic steel. All front end and rear end suspension mounts with mounting hardware assembled must have single round mounting holes that are the correct size for the fastener being used. All front end and rear end suspension mounts and mounting hardware must not allow movement or realignment of any suspension component beyond normal rotation or suspension travel)."
Prior to both of Penske's appeals being heard, the suspended members were allowed to participate in last month's race activities at Kansas Speedway and Richmond International Raceway as well as this past weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
"NASCAR is one of the few sports in America that has a two-tier appeals process," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "We believe in the teams getting due process when it comes to rules and regulations, and we believe that has happened again here today."