Joe Gibbs Racing scored a stunning victory Wednesday, when a three-member panel from the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel greatly reduced penalties levied by NASCAR against the team for an engine issue found in Matt Kenseth’s car after winning at Kansas Speedway April 21.
Crew chief Jason Ratcliff had his suspension cut to one race, and the driver and car owner point fines were reduced from 50 points to 12 points each. A $200,000 fine against Ratcliff remains intact and he will be on probation for the next three events. All other penalties against Ratcliff, JGR and Kenseth were completely rescinded. Kenseth now moves from 11th to fourth in points.
A 5-point penalty levied against Toyota was increased to 7 points as part of the appeal decision. That could affect the annual manufacturers’ championship.
The ruling was a huge victory for Joe Gibbs Racing and was NASCAR’s second defeat in two days, as yesterday an appeal sharply reduced penalties against Penske Racing for illegal suspension modifications.
After the Kansas race, one of eight connecting rods in Kenseth’s engine was found to be about 3 grams below the NASCAR-mandated minimum weight of 525 grams. The engine was assembled by T.R.D., U.S.A., Toyota’s racing arm, which builds powerplants for many Toyota NASCAR teams.
But NASCAR holds teams, not vendors, responsible for the legality of race cars. So after the violation was detected, NASCAR fined JGR 50 driver and car owner points. In addition, Ratcliff was suspended for six races and fined $200,000.
NASCAR said Kenseth’s Kansas victory would not count toward eligibility for a wild card position in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, nor would it earn Kenseth the 3 bonus points awarded to top 10 drivers at the conclusion of the 26-race NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season. The No. 20 was also ruled ineligible to earn owner points for six races.
JGR did not argue that the part was too light, but said instead that the penalties were too harsh because the part came from a vendor.
“Our sport has a due process system in place that has served the sport very well for more than 65 years,” said NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp after the ruling was read. “And that due process resulted in this decision here today. While we are disappointed in today’s outcome, we stand firmly behind our inspection process.
“The inspection of engines and engine parts and pieces has always been regarded as the Holy Grail throughout the industry. That, along 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. The responsibility for such infractions falls on their shoulders. Our intensity and approach to inspecting engines will not change. We take this ruling and we move on to Darlington.”
National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel Statement
The National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel today heard and considered the appeal of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team.
The penalties concern Sections 12-1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing; 12-4J: Any determination by NASCAR Officials that race equipment used in the event does not conform to the NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the NASCAR rule book, or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the event; and 20-5.5.3E: Only solid magnetic steel connecting rods with a minimum weight of 525.0 grams will be permitted. Connecting rod failed to meet minimum connecting rod weight.
The penalties stemmed from a post-race engine inspection April 23 at the NASCAR Research and Development Center.
The original penalties assessed to the No. 20 team were:
? Crew chief Jason Ratcliff: Fined $200,000 and suspended from NASCAR until the completion of the next six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship point events (a period of time that also includes the non-points Sprint All-Star Race)
? Car owner Joe Gibbs: Loss of 50 championship car owner points; the first place finish from April 21 at Kansas Speedway will not earn bonus points toward the accumulated aggregate car owner points total after the completion of the first 26 events of the current season and will not be credited towards the eligibility for a car owner wild card position; had the owner’s license for the No. 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car suspended until the completion of the next six championship point events, therefore being ineligible to receive championship car owner points during that period of time.
? Driver Matt Kenseth: Loss of 50 championship driver points; the Coors Light Pole award from April 19 at Kansas Speedway will not be allowed for eligibility into the 2014 Sprint Unlimited; the first place finish from April 21 at Kansas Speedway will not earn bonus points toward the accumulated aggregate driver points total after the completion of the first 26 events of the current season and will not be credited towards the eligibility for a driver wild card position.
? Manufacturer: The loss of five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series manufacturer championship points.
The Appellants appealed all penalties listed above. The Appellants also requested and were granted a deferral of the suspensions until such time as the hearing could be convened.
Upon hearing the testimony, it was a unanimous decision by the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel to amend the original penalties assessed by NASCAR. The amendments are as follows:
? Crew chief Jason Ratcliff: The $200,000 fine remains intact; NASCAR suspension now covers one championship points event. In addition, he will be placed on NASCAR probation until the completion of the next three championship points events following his reinstatement;
? Car owner Joe Gibbs: Loss of championship owner points has been reduced to 12. All other components of his penalty were rescinded;
? Driver Matt Kenseth; Loss of championship driver points has been reduced to 12. All other components of his penalty were rescinded;
? Manufacturer: The loss of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series manufacturer championship points has been increased to seven.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.