RICHMOND, Va. — Mild-mannered Matt Kenseth is spitting mad at NASCAR.
The driver for Joe Gibbs Racing spoke out Thursday, one day after his team was slapped with some of the harshest penalties in NASCAR history because his race-winning car at Kansas last week failed post-race inspection.
The failure came because one of eight connecting rods in the engine was too light – by 2.7 grams, according to Kenseth, who said the rods collectively weighed more than necessary by about 2.5 grams each.
“I think the penalties are grossly unfair,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s borderline shameful.”
Kenseth was docked 50 driver points in the standings, two more than he earned for the victory. He said he’s more upset about the penalties given to car owner Joe Gibbs and his crew chief, Jason Ratcliff.
Gibbs also was docked 50 points and suspended for six weeks during which he will earn no owner points, essentially taking the No. 20 car Kenseth drives out of contention for winning an owner’s title.
Ratcliff was suspended for six weeks and fined $200,000.
The team is appealing the penalties.
Kenseth understands that a rule is a rule, but the part found to be too light was installed by Toyota Racing Development, which builds engines for JGR at a shop in Costa Mesa, Calif., Kenseth said.
“They show up on a truck or an airplane, get taken out and bolted in the car,” he said.
TDR president Lee White said Wednesday night the company took full responsibility for the mistake and confirmed that JGR had nothing to do with it.
He also said the lighter part gave Kenseth no competitive advantage.
“There was no intent. It was a mistake. JGR had no control over it,” Kenseth said with anger. “Certainly to crush Joe Gibbs like that and say they can’t win an owner’s championship with the 20 this year ... I just can’t wrap my arms around that. It just blows me away. And the same for Jason Ratcliff.
“I don’t feel bad for myself at all, but for Jason and Joe, I couldn’t feel any worse. There’s no more reputable, honest, hard-working guys with good reputations moreso than those two. I feel really bad for them.”
Kenseth said he doesn’t care that the penalty may affect his reputation as a clean racer. He said anyone with knowledge of the situation knows he and his team had nothing to do with it and gained no advantage.
He understands that NASCAR has to police the sport vigilantly, but said “the penalty is way over the top for” the infraction.
He’s not alone and not the only driver hoping the appeals panel provides some relief.
Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski’s team for Penske Racing was punished last week after NASCAR said it found unapproved parts in the rear suspension of Keselowski’s and Joey Logano’s cars at Texas. NASCAR took 25 points away from each driver, fined the crew chiefs $100,000 each and suspended seven Penske employees for six races.
Penske Racing’s appeal is scheduled for May 1.
Most drivers, Keselowski guessed, sympathize with Kenseth.
“I certainly feel bad for him because at the end of the day, Matt doesn’t put together the car and, heck, in this particular situation his team didn’t even put together the engine, so it’s a difficult situation at best,” Keselowski said Thursday at Richmond International Raceway, adding that he also understands that “from NASCAR’s side, they know that if you give an inch, you’ve got to give a mile.”
In the end, said Keselowski, “it’s just a question of whether the penalty fits the crime.”
Later, Kenseth was on the track Thursday practicing in injured JGR teammate Denny Hamlin’s Late Model car, which he agreed to drive in Thursday night’s Short Track Showdown for Hamlin’s charity.
He also was hoping to put the controversy of the past few days behind him, hopefully by Friday.
“My excitement for tonight is at an all-time low,” he said. “It just is right now.”