Kenseth calls penalties grossly unfair, plans to appeal
RICHMOND, Va. -- Matt Kenseth sounded off on penalties handed down Wednesday by NASCAR, saying that his team's engine violations were an honest mistake and did not enhance the performance of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota that carried him to victory the previous weekend at Kansas Speedway.
"I think the penalties are grossly unfair," Kenseth said Thursday at Richmond International Raceway. "I think it's borderline shameful."
Kenseth's team received penalties Wednesday after NASCAR inspectors at the sanctioning body's research and development center in Concord, N.C., discovered an unapproved connecting rod in the engine of the race-winning No. 20 JGR Toyota used at Kansas Speedway.
Kenseth was docked 50 points in the season-long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points race. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff was suspended for six races and fined $200,000 for the infraction. Team owner Joe Gibbs was hit with a 50-point penalty in the owner standings, and his license was also suspended for six weeks, leaving him ineligible to accrue owner points during that span.
"There's no performance advantage, there was no intent. It was a mistake," Kenseth said of the engine, which was provided to the team from Toyota Racing Development. "JGR had no control over it. Certainly, to crush Joe Gibbs like that and say they can't win an owner's championship with the 20 (car) this year … I just can't wrap my arms around that. It just blows me away. The same with Jason Ratcliff. I don't feel bad for myself at all, but for Jason and Joe, I couldn't feel any worse."
Kenseth said just one of the eight rods in the engine measured under the minimum weight, and that the part in question was 2.7 grams below the limit. He had no argument with the connecting rod being ruled illegal, but the severity of the penalty was what drew criticism from the former series champion.
"I just think that the penalty is way over the top," Kenseth said. "It wasn't an advantage, it was a mistake and I think that should've been taken into account."
Ratcliff will remain on Kenseth's pit box for this Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400 while the penalties are under appeal. Kenseth would not speculate on how the appeals process should go, nor on what he considered a fair penalty to be.
"I think it's business as usual," Kenseth said. "Hope the appeals process works, and we get some people in there to look at everything that are reasonable and hopefully get the penalties at least reduced. I think, other than that, we put it behind us."
Kenseth, in his first year with the Gibbs team, already has two wins in the young season, but his success has been tempered by two early exits in eight races. The penalty slowed a potential momentum gain from the Kansas victory, knocking him from eighth place to 14th in the Sprint Cup standings.
"We'd just started to get back up in the points. It's still early," Kenseth said. "Honestly, I feel like we have the strongest team in the garage, so if anybody can come back from it and get us in a spot to have a shot at winning a championship, it's my group."
Denny Hamlin -- Kenseth's JGR teammate, currently sidelined by a back injury -- said while the penalty did not affect his team directly, the impact stretched across the whole organization.
"It definitely hurts the team and the owners more than anyone," Hamlin said. "It's a tough penalty to swallow."
Weeks ago, Kenseth confirmed his entry in Thursday night's Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Richmond, filling in for his injured teammate and event host. The events of the previous 24 hours, however, left Kenseth less than enthused.
"My excitement for tonight is at an all-time low," he said flatly. "It just is right now. By tomorrow, I'll be ready to get on the track and race. I'll try to have fun tonight. I'll give it my all. … By tomorrow morning, I'm going to be ready. If it's possible, I think we're more motivated and determined than ever."
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