An appeals board has sharply reduced the penalties against Joe Gibbs Racing and Matt Kenseth stemming from the Kansas race, dealing a stinging blow to NASCAR and giving Kenseth a boost in his race for the Chase.
During postrace inspection after Kenseth's victory at Kansas, NASCAR discovered that one of eight connecting rods in the car's engine was light by the weight of three grams. (A penny weighs 2.5 grams.) Kenseth was docked 50 points, crew chief Jason Ratliff was suspended six races and fined $200,000, owner Joe Gibbs was suspended six races, and manufacturer Toyota was served with a five-point penalty.
However, JGR argued that the engine was produced by Toyota and that the team had no access to the engine's rods. In addition, JGR argued that the rod could not have given the No. 20 a competitive advantage. Toyota immediately took responsibility for the rod, which may have had a role in the appeal.
The three-member National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel reduced Kenseth's penalty from 50 points to 12, and reduced Ratliff's suspension to one race and waived Gibbs' entirely. The fine against Ratliff remained, and Toyota's fine was increased to seven points.
With the reduction in points penalty, Kenseth sees an immediate jump in the standings, from 11th to fourth. The bonus points from the win now will count in the Chase, and the win will count in the calculation of a wild card, if necessary, as unlikely as that now appears for Kenseth.
NASCAR has no further recourse, and the organizing body made known its thoughts on the matter shortly afterward. "Our sport has a due process system in place that has served this sport very well for more than 65 years, and that due process resulted in this decision here today," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "While we are disappointed by today's outcome, we stand firmly behind our inspection process. The inspection of engines, and engine parts and pieces has always been regarded as the holy grail throughout the industry -- that along with fuel and tires. In violations such as these, we have no other reinforcement process than to penalize the team owner and team members. That's how our system works."
Gibbs indicated that there would be no further appeals, but declined to state who would be taking Ratcliff's place this weekend at Darlington or whether JGR would pay Ratcliff's fine.
“We’re committed to make sure it never happens in the future,” Gibbs said. “After going through this process, we have great respect for our sport and in particular NASCAR. All of us at Joe Gibbs Racing are committed to being good partners. We want to race with NASCAR forever. We’re going to work extremely hard with [Toyota] to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
Kenseth, for his part, offered up the following tweet:
Glad to have today behind us so we can get our focus back on racing. I respect NASCAR and the appeals process, I feel like they got it right
— Matt Kenseth (@mattkenseth) May 8, 2013
NASCAR's appeals board has heard 151 appeals. Of that total, 106 were upheld, 32 were reduced, 11 were eliminated and two were increased.