The National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel on Wednesday substantially lessened the penalties assessed by NASCAR to Joe Gibbs Racing for an illegal engine used in Matt Kenseth's race-winning car last month at Kansas Speedway.
Kenseth and team owner Joe Gibbs will both be penalized with a loss of 12 points instead of the original 50 points. That will elevate Kenseth from 11th in the point standings to fourth. His win in the April 21 race at Kansas will count towards the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, meaning he will earn bonus points towards eligibility and seeding for the playoffs. The Kansas victory will also count towards the eligibility for a driver wild card position, if he were to need one. His pole win at that racetrack will now count as well.
Jason Ratcliff, the crew chief for Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota at JGR, had his suspension shortened from six points-paying races to only one. After Ratcliff is reinstated, he will be on probation for the next three races. His fine of $200,000 remained the same.
The owner license for the No. 20 will no longer be banned. NASCAR had suspended the license for six point races, making the team ineligible to receive championship car owner points during that period of time. The panel did increase the loss of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Manufacturer Championship points assessed to the team from five to seven.
JGR's appeal was heard by a three-member panel, which included Dover International Speedway president and CEO Dennis McGlynn, Stafford Speedway general manager Mark Arute and former motorsports team owner Jack Housby. The hearing was held at NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord.
"I think all of us are glad to get the process over with, so we can get back to racing and get focused again," Gibbs said.
NASCAR handed down severe penalties to JGR on April 24 after officials found one of the connecting rods on the engine used in Kenseth's car did not meet the minimum connecting rod weight. The violation was discovered during a secondary post-race inspection of his engine at the NASCAR R&D center.
NASCAR said in the announcement of the penalties that "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."
Toyota Racing Development, which is the engine supplier for JGR, took full responsibility for the engine issue at Kansas and noted the team was not involved in the process of selecting parts or assembling engines for its cars.
TRD president Lee White said in a statement the day the penalties were issued that "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."
"This has been a tough week for everyone, and certainly no one wanted this to happen, and we're committed to making sure that it never happens in the future," Gibbs said. "I want to emphasize after going through this process that we have great respect for our sport and, in particular, NASCAR.
"All of us at Joe Gibbs Racing are committed to being good partners, and we want to race in NASCAR forever. We're going to work extremely hard with TRD to make sure that this never happens again. Right now, we just want to get back to racing."
Ratcliff will serve his suspension this weekend when the Sprint Cup Series competes at Darlington Raceway. Gibbs did not immediately announce who will take over Ratcliff's role at Darlington.
Kenseth posted on his Twitter account shortly after the panel reached its decision that he was pleased with the outcome. He previously called the penalties "grossly unfair" and "borderline shameful."
"Glad to have today behind us so we can get our focus back on racing. I respect NASCAR and the appeals process, I feel like they got it right," Kenseth tweeted.
NASCAR, though, was disappointed with the panel's decision.
"While we are disappointed in today's outcome, we stand firmly behind our inspection process," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "The inspection of engines and engine parts and pieces has always been regarded as the holy grail throughout the industry, that alone with fuel and tires.
"And in violations such as these, we have no other recourse in the reinforcement process than to penalize the team owner and team members. That's how our system works. And the responsibility of such infractions fall on their shoulders. Our intensity and approach to inspecting engines will not change. We take this ruling, and we move on to Darlington."
Gibbs said he will not file for a final appeal in front of National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook.
"We accept the penalties the way they are, and we're not going to appeal anything," he noted. "We're ready to go, and we want to go back to racing. We want to put this behind us."
On Tuesday, Middlebrook heard Penske Racing's last appeal for rules violations that occurred on April 13 at Texas Motor Speedway. He reduced the suspension period for seven team members at Penske from six point races to two, but upheld the loss of points to both Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano as well as their car owners. The fine remained the same for their crew chiefs as well.
During pre-race inspection at Texas, officials discovered illegal parts on the rear of Keselowski's No.2 and Logano's No. 22 cars. Penske had its initial appeal upheld on May 1.