NASCAR lowers boom on Penske drivers
April 17, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
What a contrast the last 24 hours have been for Brad Keselowski. One day after being honored by the president for winning the Sprint Cup championship, he was slammed with a penalty that may jeopardize his ability to defend it.
NASCAR on Wednesday came down hard on Keselowski and Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano for technical violations discovered before last Saturday night’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, docking each driver 25 championship points and unleashing a flurry of suspensions that includes both crew chiefs.
As a result, Keselowski’s crew chief Paul Wolfe has been fined $100,000 and suspended for the next six Sprint Cup events -- including the non-points Sprint All-Star Race. Car chief Jerry Kelley, team engineer Brian Wilson and Penske competition director Travis Geisler have been suspended for the same duration. Logano’s crew chief Todd Gordon was also fined $100,000 and suspended six weeks. Car chief Raymond Fox and team engineer Samuel Stanley were suspended for the same length of time as well.
All the penalized Penske personnel are also on probation until Dec. 31. Keselowski and Logano were among three drivers penalized Wednesday for violations from Texas. Martin Truex Jr. was docked six championships points for his car being too low after last week’s event, while crew chief Chad Johnston was fined $25,000 and placed on probation through June 5.
The steep penalties levied against the Penske organization stem from rear-end housings in the Nos. 2 and 22 cars that failed pre-race inspection. NASCAR confiscated the parts in question, forcing a frantic changeover that had the Penske crews rushing to get the vehicles through inspection before the race began. They made it, although Logano had to start at the rear of the field because NASCAR determined his car was not on the starting grid in time.
According to NASCAR, both Penske cars were found to be in violation of rule book sections 12-1, 12-4J and 20-12, which mandate that all suspension systems and components must be approved by NASCAR. Those sections also state that approval parts cannot be used after NASCAR deems them ineligible for competition, and also stipulate what suspension parts and hardware must be made of (solid magnetic steel), the correct size of round mounting holes, and limitations on movement or realignment of suspension parts beyond normal rotation or travel.
“Our guys are innovative, we’re looking at the rules, looking at areas where maybe we can get an edge like everybody else is," team owner Roger Penske said following the Texas race. “I don’t think we did anything wrong. Obviously it’s a judgment, and we’ll deal with it with NASCAR. But we’re going to move on to the next race."
Keselowski vented following the race, saying his team had been “targeted” by the sanctioning body. “The way we’ve been treated the last seven days is absolutely shameful,” he added. Emotions had cooled considerably by Tuesday, when Keselowski was honored by President Barack Obama at the White House in a ceremony attended by several NASCAR executives, including chairman Brian France.
After the ceremony, Keselowski was asked if there had been any dialogue with NASCAR officials since Texas. “I’ve had some contact,” he said, “and it’s all been a really great conversation.”
The penalties mean both Penske drivers will take a serious hit in the Sprint Cup standings. Keselowski left Texas second in the Sprint Cup standings, nine points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. After the 25-point penalty, he drops to fifth, 34 behind the leader. Logano departed Fort Worth in ninth place, 62 behind Johnson. With the penalty, he now stands 15th, 87 points behind the leader.
Penske Racing released a statement saying the team would appeal the penalties, which would allow the suspended crew members to work at the track while the appeals are being heard. The point deductions, though, go into effect immediately.
The team said, "Penske Racing received communication today from NASCAR regarding penalties they have issued against the No. 2 and No. 22 teams. Penske Racing will appeal utilizing the appropriate NASCAR process. We have no further comment at this time."
"I would say my reaction is that's what I expected," McMurray said. "... But the points are the hardest thing -- maybe not so much for Brad, but the 22-car is kinda on the bubble and 25 points can be the difference in making the Chase or not."
Meanwhile, Truex’s penalty comes on the heels of his best race of the season, a runner-up appearance at Texas in which he led 142 laps before finishing second to Kyle Busch. After that event, NASCAR determined the front of the No. 56 car was too low in post-race inspection.
The penalty steepens an already uphill climb for Truex, who has been saddled by several poor finishes this season and is trying to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the third time in his career. He left Texas 18th in the standings, 100 points behind leader Johnson. Following the penalty, he dropped one spot to 19th, 106 behind Johnson.
Truex’s team will not appeal the penalty, Michael Waltrip Racing said in a statement.
“Michael Waltrip Racing is sensitive to working within the guidelines of NASCAR policy,” Waltrip said. “This infraction clearly occurred as a result of a malfunction caused by race conditions. Therefore, we will not appeal. We thank NASCAR for providing a fair and equitable platform for all of its competitors and respect its decisions.”
In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the sanctioning body also docked Ron Hornaday Jr. 25 driver points and fined him $25,000.
Hornaday’s penalty stems from an incident under caution with seven laps remaining in Sunday’s Truck Series event at Rockingham. The four-time champion bumped Wallace to show his unhappiness with how he had been raced, and turned the 19-year-old into the wall -- a result Hornaday later said was unintentional.
The all-time Truck Series victory leader with 51 race wins, Hornaday was sent to the rear of the field by NASCAR for aggressive driving. He finished 15th and left Rockingham fourth in the series standings, 30 points behind leader Johnny Sauter. With the penalty, he drops to 13th, 55 points back.
In a statement, Hornaday's team said, "NTS Motorsports received notification of NASCAR’s penalties assessed for the incident involving Ron Hornaday Jr., occurring at Rockingham Speedway. NTS supports NASCAR’s rulings and penalties, will not appeal and has no further comments."
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