Matt Kenseth was clearly relieved on Friday at Darlington Raceway.
Since the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel on Wednesday reduced the original NASCAR penalties to Kenseth, team owner Joe Gibbs and the No. 20 crew stemming from their winning engine at Kansas Speedway on April 21 failing to meet specifications, Kenseth can approach the next 16 races before the Chase for the Sprint Cup with renewed optimism.
“Obviously, you never want to have a penalty,” Kenseth said. “You hope not to have yourself in that position, so I think that’s the main point for us to take away is to make sure us JGR and our partners, we got it all worked out to where nothing like that ever happens again so we’re never again in that spot.
“I’m happy they got reduced. The penalties were pretty crushing before they got reduced. I really applaud NASCAR for having the appeals process and putting that in place to have people look at it after the dust settles a little bit and be objective, look at all the facts and make a decision. You’ve seen some increased, some reduced and some kept the same through the past. So I think they did a good job at looking at all the facts and circumstances that went with and made a decent decision there.”
Kenseth and Gibbs’ driver and owner points penalties were reduced from a loss of 50 to 12. Consequently, Kenseth returns to fourth in the points standings after dropping to 11th before the hearing. Kenseth also retains the bonus points for the win – which would apply to a wild-card position in the Chase if necessary – as well as credit for his pole position at Kansas, which qualifies him for the 2014 Sprint Unlimited. Gibbs also had his six-race suspension rescinded.
And instead of Kenseth competing without Jason Ratcliff for the next six points races, his crew chief will only be sidelined this weekend. However, Ratcliff will be under probation for the next three championship races. Wally Brown will fill in this weekend at Darlington Raceway.
“I think that’s a huge difference,” Kenseth said. “I’ve got a really, really strong race team over there. I feel good about everybody and the jobs they do, but certainly, Jason is the guy that makes it happen.
“I told him when it all happened that I don’t think I can get along without him. So, I’ll miss him tonight and tomorrow and getting through the day – but I think they’re really prepared, real ready for this because they thought it was coming – but I’ll be really thankful to have him back next week.”
Kenseth says he doesn’t feel a sense of “vindication.” Frankly, he sounded a bit disgusted being subjected to the process in the first place or putting NASCAR in the position to have to “react” the team. But many supporters and fellow competitors agreed with Kenseth that the original penalties were excessive.
“Really your goal is to never be in that spot,” Kenseth said. “I thought these penalties were more in line with what I initially thought it would be compared to what happened in the past.”
Although it wasn’t necessary for the JGR appeal to reach the chief appellate officer stage to earn a reprieve, Kenseth didn’t feel comfortable comparing this case to that involving Penske Racing’s penalties, other than to point out that the circumstances were significantly different.
“I honestly don’t know enough about what Penske went through,” Kenseth said. “I really don’t. I haven’t seen a piece of those parts. I haven’t read the ruling. I don’t know enough about it.
“I don’t know if it’s so much a message. I don’t know if it’s the coincidence of having two things going on right there at once that were both fairly major but both different in nature. The car stuff and engineering is a lot different than what we had happen … I’m glad it’s behind us. I’m glad we’re done appealing it and can move forward and hope that we’re never in this spot again. In 22 years that Joe Gibbs Racing has been in NASCAR racing, it’s the first appeal he’s ever had. Hopefully, he can go another 22 without being in that spot.”