Penske penalty change follows trend

Although the fines and points penalties NASCAR levied against Penske Racing were upheld on appeal Tuesday, the team scored a significant victory when NASCAR chief appellate officer John Middlebrook trimmed the suspensions of seven key Penske personnel.

Middlebrook, after hearing Penske’s final appeal in a three-hour session at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., cut team and crew suspensions from six points races to two, plus the upcoming Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The team members — crew chiefs Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon, car chiefs Jerry Kelley and Raymond Fox III, engineers Samuel Stanley and Brian Wilson and competition director Travis Geisler — will miss point races at Darlington and Charlotte, and will return for the Dover race on June 2. The team members have continued to work while the suspensions were under appeal.

The team was penalized for rear-end housing violations at Texas Motor Speedway.

Left intact were penalties of 25 points for the Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano teams and $200,000 in fines.

Although team owner Roger Penske has more-than-adequate employees who can fill in for those on suspension, the fact that the front-line team members will miss only two points races is of major significance as Keselowski seeks a second championship and Logano aims to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Penske said Tuesday the trimming of the suspensions was more important than possible reductions in the point penalties or the fines.

Keselowski is fifth in points and Logano is 18th after 10 races.

Middlebrook’s ruling is also significant in areas beyond the immediate positives for the Penske team.

Middlebrook has reduced penalties in five of six appeals he has heard. Particularly after major penalties, it seems virtually certain in the future that teams will use the appeal process to reach Middlebrook’s desk.

The Penske appeal was denied last week by a NASCAR appeals panel, the first level of challenge after penalties.

“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.”