Pemberton steadfast in penalties explanation
April 26, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
RICHMOND, Va. -- Robin Pemberton playfully sighed and slumped when a reporter pointed out the backdrop for his news conference Friday morning at Richmond International Raceway. The wall had been decorated with the logo of Saturday night's race sponsor, Toyota.
The automaker has been in an ever-brightening spotlight since NASCAR handed down hefty penalties to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry team, driven by Matt Kenseth. But Pemberton's remarks Friday served to remind everyone that however intense the spotlight, the issue should be viewed only in terms of black and white.
"Some of our most severe penalties over time have surrounded engine infractions."
-- Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition
Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, spoke out Friday to outline the sanctioning body's approach to one of the most severe penalties in its history, illustrating what care was taken with the case of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' most recent winning car and what areas of the rule book are strict no-nos.
Kenseth led the team's outcry at the track Thursday, a day after NASCAR docked him 50 points in the season-long driver standings, dished out a $200,000 fine and six-week suspension to crew chief Jason Ratcliff and suspended car owner Joe Gibbs' license for six weeks after finding an unapproved engine part in his race-winning car from the previous weekend at Kansas Speedway.
Kenseth's points of contention had less to do with the infraction -- the connecting rod in question was measured at 2.7 grams under the minimum weight allowed -- but more to do with the severity of the penalty based on the team's intent and the lack of a gain in performance.
Pemberton's message Friday? NASCAR doesn't judge intent, motive or performance advantages.
"It's not hard, but what you have to understand is there's reasons that there are rules," Pemberton said. "There are reasons that there are defined numbers, okay? They're not there ‑‑ we didn't just dream numbers up. We work with the teams, we work with manufacturers, and we work with outside experts to get these parameters. They know. When you look at the rule book, you say, 'Oh, I can't be here. I have to be there, right.' …
"I don't want to be so cold about it, but that's just the way it is. That's why you have these parameters put into play. They know ahead of time where they're supposed to be."
Kenseth called the harshness of the penalties "grossly unfair" and "borderline shameful" in his Thursday remarks. But Pemberton said the severity was based on the violations falling under the heading of one of three strictly off-limits areas -- engines, tires and fuel.
"That's a common thread that's been understood, and it's stood the test of time for the last 65 years," Pemberton said. "Don't mess with those areas, and the penalties are severe. But when you look in the case of an engine, the only time we really get a chance to look internally at an engine is post‑race. Some of our most severe penalties over time have surrounded engine infractions."
In Gibbs' case, the engines for all three of the team's Sprint Cup cars -- including Kenseth's -- are provided by Toyota Racing Development (TRD). So why wasn't the engine builder punished to the same degree? Pemberton said that the responsibility ultimately falls on the team for the product it brings to the track.
The penalties assessed to Gibbs himself drew the loudest complaints from Kenseth and Ratcliff. By being stripped of 50 owner points and unable to accrue more for a six-week span, the No. 20 JGR team will likely tumble down the owners standings, effectively dropping it from title contention in that category.
Gibbs said later Friday that the team would appeal the severity of the penalty, reiterating that the intent was not to gain a performance advantage. Gibbs also said that it will make the case that 10 TRD engines -- eight of which were from JGR cars -- have been inspected at the NASCAR Research & Development Center this year, and all have been found legal.
According to Pemberton, the limits and parameters of the rule book are not up for interpretation.
"As it relates to a car owner being suspended when you look at engine penalties, they're severe for a reason," Pemberton said. "We don't take lightly somebody being out of bounds when it comes to an engine or an engine situation. That's why the penalties sit where they do."
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