Penske Racing had its day in NASCAR’s court Wednesday and it fared about as well as everyone else in stock car’s appeals process when a panel voted to uphold sanctions against teams for Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.
Next week Matt Kenseth’s team will face the same likely conclusion when Joe Gibbs Racing argues against penalties for an illegal engine part.
Penske argued their infractions weren’t intentional.
It argued their illegal parts passed earlier inspections. It argued the penalties were too severe.
Gibbs will make the same case next Wednesday, knowing it probably will be arguing in vain.
Cars for Keselowski and Logano were caught with bolts that allowed for some movement in the rear-end housing. One of NASCAR’s new rules for the new Generation-6 car mandated a fixed rear end.
Their penalties were the loss of 25 points each, $100,000 fines and six-race suspensions for their crew chiefs, lead engineers and car chiefs.
Car owner Roger Penske admitted his team operated “in the gray area.” But when it comes to enforcing the rules for the new car, NASCAR said there are no gray areas. It’s black and white.
The appeals committee didn’t buy any of Penske’s points, but it will allow the crew to work at Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway while the team prepares a final appeal next Tuesday to National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook.
There were extra crewmen working for Keselowski and Logano at last Saturday’s race at Richmond so they are better able to work in relief if their appeals fail.
Keselowski didn’t hold much hope with the appeal.
“My hopes are obviously that it gets 100 percent repealed,” he said. “That’s my hope. But, realistically, I would say that’s probably not going to happen, so I’m just going to stand by and watch and let Roger and his guys figure it out.”
There now have been 147 appeals since 1999. Of those, only 11 were overturned.
Kenseth’s penalty was the most severe in NASCAR history.
One of the engine connecting rods was too light by nearly three grams – the weight of a penny – after he won the April 21 race at Kansas Speedway.
Crew chief Jason Ratcliff was fined $200,000 and suspended for six races, while Kenseth was docked 50 points. Car owner Joe Gibbs also was suspended for six races and he won’t be allowed to collect any car owner points while he’s away.
Their appeal will focus on Toyota Racing Development’s engine program. Since it buys engines from another source, the team feels it shouldn’t be held responsible for any of their problems.
“I think the penalties are grossly unfair,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s borderline shameful. There’s no argument the part was wrong. They weighed it and it was wrong. However, there is an argument that there certainly was no performance advantage.
“There was no intent, it was a mistake. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) had no control over it.”
NASCAR said if a team buys equipment from an outside vendor, it has to accept the liability that comes with it.
“As everyone knows there are a few things that are understood in the garage area that are big,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition. “When you talk about engines, you talk about tires and you talk about fuel, that’s a common thread that’s been understood. And it’s stood the test of time for the last 65 years. Don’t mess with those areas and the penalties are severe.
“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. It’s a part that didn’t meet spec. It’s not a gray area. There are numbers in the books.”
NASCAR already has precedence to use during Kenseth’s appeal. Carl Long was caught with an oversized engine during the 2009 Sprint Showdown all-star race. His crew chief was fined $200,000 and the team was suspended for eight races.
Long argued the engine was built by Ernie Elliott and he bought it from Chip Ganassi Racing after that team switched to Chevrolet.
Long lost his appeal. Since the fine still hasn’t been paid, Long remains suspended from the Sprint Cup Series garage.