Appeal date nears for Joe Gibbs Racing
May 07, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Joe Gibbs Racing officials don’t dispute the findings of NASCAR officials following the April 23 inspection of the group’s No. 20 Toyota with driver Matt Kenseth.
Team officials do, however, question the severity of the penalties levied against the team.
Will that make a difference as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series organization goes before NASCAR’s appeals panel May 8 at the sanctioning body’s research and development center?
Or will the fact that the engine, supplied by Toyota Racing Development, and connecting rod, which TRD says came from an outside vendor, factor into the panel’s decision?
The engine in Kenseth’s winning entry failed final inspection conducted at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord two days after the April 21 STP 400 at Kansas Speedway.
According to NASCAR officials, one of the engine’s eight connecting rods, which connect the pistons to the crankshaft, failed to meet the minimum weight of 525 grams.
The penalties handed down included the loss of 50 championship driver points for Kenseth, 50 championship owner points for team owner Joe Gibbs and a $200,000 fine for crew chief Jason Ratcliff.
Kenseth earned 48 points with the win -- he was awarded 43 for finishing in the No. 1 position, plus three bonus points for the win, one for leading a lap and one for leading the most laps.
NASCAR officials allowed the victory to stand, but the 50-point deduction erased any benefits the team would have gained from it.
A day after the penalties were announced, Kenseth called the ruling “grossly unfair.”
“I think it’s borderline shameful,” he said during a press conference at Richmond International Raceway.
Team owner Joe Gibbs, also speaking at RIR, said with the exception of an inquiry regarding another driver’s penalty in 2011, his organization had not appealed a penalty in its 22 years of NASCAR competition.
“We really value our relationship with NASCAR,” he said. "We have, I think, an excellent relationship.
“There was not an intent to circumvent the rules or to have an unfair competitive advantage. That was very important to me.”
Lee White, president of TRD, issued a statement immediately after the penalties were announced, absolving JGR of any fault, saying that the incident “was a simple oversight on TRD's part.”
However, NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton pointed out that the sanctioning has always ruled harshly when infractions were found involving engines, tires and fuel. And the teams are ultimately responsible for what is presented to NASCAR inspectors each week at the track.
“It's very difficult to go to an outside vendor and penalize them, whether it's springs or shocks or parts that are bought and bolted on race cars,” Pemberton said. “That's why in today's world we all know and relate to the fact that it stops at the crew chief and stops at the owner and stops at the organization that is here to compete.”
A three-member panel, selected from the 51 members serving for 2013, will hear statements and view any evidence provided by both sides -- in this case officials with JGR and the sanctioning body.
Should the JGR penalty stand, the Kansas win will not count toward Kenseth’s total when determining bonus points for seeding purposes in this year’s Chase For The Sprint Cup, should the former champion be eligible for the 10-race playoff.
In addition to the monetary fine, Ratcliff is also facing a six-race suspension.
Should the panel rule in favor of NASCAR, JGR officials will likely appeal to National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook.
“We'll take it as far as we have to in the appeals process and see what they come up with and whatever the penalty is at the end of the day, we'll have to accept that and move on,” Kenseth said prior to last week’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.
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