In the past two weeks we’ve seen two big teams get hammered by NASCAR for illegal parts. The administration certainly isn’t messing around this year, if you are found in violation of their rules no matter what the circumstances surrounding it are, you will be punished harshly. I fully agree with the Penske penalties but I do not agree with how hard they came down on JGR and Matt Kenseth. If anyone should have received a larger punishment, it should be the No.2 and No.22 because they purposely tried to get a performance advantage by manipulating the rear ends of their racecars. The No.20 issue was simply a mistake on the part of TRD and there was no malicious intent whatsoever.
During pre-race inspection at Texas, officials found that Penske Racing had messed with the rear end housings of their cars attempting to get them to skew which was outlawed by NASCAR at the start of this year. Both the No.2 and the No.22 barely made it to the grid in time for the race and Brad Keselowski was very vocal following the event. He was quoted saying,
“I have one good thing to say, that’s my team and effort they put in today in fighting back with the absolute bulls— that’s been the last seven days in this garage area. The things I’ve seen over the last seven days have me questioning everything that I believe in, and I’m not happy about it. I don’t have anything positive to say and I probably should just leave it at that. There’s so much stuff going on…you have no f—— idea what’s going on, And that’s not your fault and that’s not a slam on you. I could tell you there’s nobody, no team in this garage with the integrity of the 2 team. And the way we’ve been treated over the last seven days is absolutely shameful. I feel like we’ve been targeted over the last seven days more than I’ve ever seen a team targeted. But my guys kept their heads on straight and they showcased why they are a winning team and championship team. We’re not going to take it. We’re not going to be treated this way.”
NASCAR surprisingly did not penalize Keselowski for those incensed comments but they weren’t bashful about dropping the hammer on the team for their rear end housing infraction. They suspended the crew chiefs, the car chiefs, team engineers and the team manager for six weeks. They also fined the crew chiefs $100,000, took 25 points away from Brad and Joey and placed all the team personal that they suspended on probation until December 31st, 2013. What these guys did was play in the gray area and ended up stepping on NASCAR’s toes. They aren’t bad, they aren’t cheaters, they are just doing their job. Every team from all eras has always tried to find an advantage by playing in iffy territory. It’s nothing new and every team does it, some just do it better than others. When you mess around in the danger zone, you’re eventually going to get bit and that’s what happened here. I have no remorse for them and feel the penalties are fully justified.
When it comes to Joe Gibbs Racing and their ground shattering punishment, a large contingent of people out there including myself feel NASCAR went too far. A connecting rod was found to be approximately 2.7 grams underweight when NASCAR weighed it during the tear down of the race winning No.20 car from Kansas. The other 7 connecting rods were each a few grams to the good and perfectly legal. There are areas on a racecar that are considered sacred ground and not even the likes of Chad Knaus would dare mess with them. That’s the tires, the fueling system and the engine. As a result, NASCAR dropped the hammer hard in a penalty that ranks right up there as one of the biggest ever. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff was fined $200,000 and suspended for six races, an astonishing 50 points were taken away, Matt won’t get chase bonus points for the win and can’t use it as a WC either, the owners license of Joe Gibbs has been suspended for six weeks, the pole won’t count towards the 2014 Sprint Unlimited and Toyota loses 5 manufacturer points.
One connecting rod 2.7 grams underweight gives no advantage and in fact, it throws the engine slightly out of balance which could hurt overall performance. It was an error made by TRD when creating the parts and nothing more. NASCAR doesn’t look at it that way though and although I don’t like it, I can understand that. If they started basing penalties on the exact person who was in the wrong, it would bring in an infinite number of variables and it could get very messy. This case in particular exemplifies one that would be a black and white but a lot of them wouldn’t be. In order to maintain consistency and integrity, they have to police each case basically using tunnel vision. They can’t factor in the all the details; just simply look at it and say this piece was in violation of this rule therefore we will issue the appropriate penalties. This is when the appeal committee comes in handy though. They are separate from the NASCAR officials who initially hand out punishments and they base their decisions after hearing the team’s explanation for why they were in violation of the rules. With this particular situation, I think JGR has a good chance to reduce the penalties. It’s actually a pretty solid system that NASCAR has put in place and works very well most of the time.
I still firmly believe that TRD should have gotten more of a punishment though. Penske pushes the limits trying to gain an advantage and gets caught but their penalty is less than a team that had an issue with a manufacturer supplied part that didn’t even help performance of the car. That doesn’t make sense to me. It looks like they came down harder on JGR because they raced with the “illegal” part and won with it unlike Penske whose blunder was caught before the race even began. TRD took full blame for the error but the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the teams in the eyes of NASCAR. Matt Kenseth wasn’t pleased with how hard his team was hit and had this to say regarding the penalties:
“I think the penalties are grossly unfair. 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. If you can find any unbiased, reputable, knowledgeable engine-builder and if they saw the facts, what all the rods weighed. The average weight of all the rods was well above the minimum — 2.5 (grams) above the minimum at least. There was one in there that was way heavy. There was no performance advantage, there was no intent, it was a mistake. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) had no control over it. Certainly to crush Joe Gibbs like that — to say they can’t win an owner’s championship with the 20 this year is just, I can’t wrap my arms around that, it just blows me away. And the same with Jason Ratcliff (crew chief). I don’t feel bad for myself at all, but for Jason and Joe, I just couldn’t feel any worse. There’s no more reputable, honest hard-working guys with good reputations more so than those two — I feel really bad for them.”
The Penske Racing appeal will be held May 1st at the NASCAR R&D Center and no one expects their punishment to be reduced in any way. They appealed not because they thought they could win, but because they wanted to have some time to find appropriate replacements for their soon to be sidelined seven high profile team members. JGR is also appealing the penalties issued to them and like I said before, they do have a fighting chance. The date of their appeal hasn’t been set yet but my guess would be that it would take place the week leading up to Talladega or possibly the week following it.
I’m sure all of you out there have your own sentiments regarding these highly controversial incidents so feel free to voice your opinions below!