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 he won at Kansas Speedway on April 21.
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Crew chief Jason Ratcliff had his suspension cut to one race, and the driver and car owner point fines were reduced from 50 to 12 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 All other penalties against Ratcliff, JGR and Kenseth were completely rescinded.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 Sprint Cup points.
A five-point penalty levied against Toyota was increased to seven 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. On Tuesday, an appeal resulted in 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., USA, Toyota’s racing arm, which builds power plants 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 points 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 three 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’s points for six races.
JGR did not argue that the part was not 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 fall on their shoulders. Our intensity and approach to inspecting engines will not change. We take this ruling, and we move on to Darlington.”