Published September 13, 2015
Joe Gibbs has to hope he gets as lucky today as Roger Penske did yesterday.
Officials from Joe Gibbs Racing are at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., today, where they are appealing penalties levied by NASCAR after the engine in Matt Kenseth’s car was found to have a too-light connecting rod following his victory at Kansas Speedway April 21.
A three-member panel from the National Stock Car Racing Commission will hear today’s appeal. Since 1999, there have been 151 total appeals of NASCAR penalties. Of those, 107 were upheld, 31 reduced, 11 overturned and two increased.
If JGR loses today, the team can go before National Stock Car Racing chief appellate officer John Middlebrook. Yesterday, Middlebrook reduced six-week suspensions for seven key Penske Racing members to two points races each for infractions discovered on the cars of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano at Texas Motor Speedway. Middlebrook did uphold points and monetary fines assessed against the Penske squad.
In the most recent appeal before that, last year Middlebrook overturned points penalties as well as suspensions against Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, and car chief, Ron Malec, for C-post modifications made at Daytona. Middlebrook did, however, uphold a $100,000 fine against Knaus.
Of the 15 final appeals conducted since ’99, nine were upheld as is and one was overturned completely. The others were modified.
In the case being heard today, NASCAR fined JGR 50 driver and car owner points, as well as suspended crew chief Jason Ratcliff for six races and fined him $200,000.
In addition, the Kansas victory will not count toward eligibility for a wild card position in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, nor will it earn Kenseth the three bonus points awarded to top 10 drivers at the conclusion of the 26-race NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season. On top of that, the No. 20 is ineligible to earn owner points for six races.
JRG does not build its own engines; the organization uses engines assembled by T.R.D., U.S.A., Toyota’s racing arm, which builds most of the engines used by Toyota teams in the Sprint Cup Series.
The engine in question was found to have a connecting rod that was about three grams lighter than the 525-gram minimum weight mandated by NASCAR.
JGR is not disputing that the rod was light, but it is appealing the severity of the penalty, especially given that it doesn’t build its own engines.
Kenseth called the penalties “grossly unfair” and “borderline shameful.”
“I respect NASCAR's view on it as far as the part was illegal so by the letter of the law, the part's illegal and there's consequences for that,” added crew chief Ratcliff. “I do not feel like the spirit of the law was compromised. That's where we felt like the severity of the penalty is extremely harsh. We won Kansas, you can bet your bottom dollar on that. You make that change in that engine, and that race doesn't change a bit.''
But NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton defended the penalty in an interview at Richmond International Raceway.
“We will not and cannot penalize vendors,” Pemberton said. “We'd be at it all day long, whether it was a shock that went bad, a spring that collapsed that caused the car (to be) low or any of those things.
“But when you go down that road, there are a million pieces on these cars, and so we choose to go down the path that it's the team's responsibility for quality control, to check on the parts and pieces that they bring and compete with at the racetrack.”
Following is the full penalty release from NASCAR:
Penalties have been handed down to the No. 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team as a result of rule violations discovered in the post-race engine inspection April 23 at the NASCAR Research and Development Center.
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.
As a result of this violation, NASCAR has assessed the following penalties:
• Crew chief Jason Ratcliff has been fined $200,000 and suspended from NASCAR until the completion of the next six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points events (a period of time that also includes the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race) and placed on probation until Dec. 31.
• Car owner Joe Gibbs has lost 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; has had the owner’s license for the No. 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car suspended until the completion of the next six championship points events, therefore being ineligible to receive championship car owner points during that period of time.
• Driver Matt Kenseth has lost 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.
• The loss of five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Manufacturer Championship points.
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.