Matt Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff (Getty Images)
Uhh, take that NASCAR?
In an ultimate bit of irony, Matt Kenseth won the pole for Saturday night's Toyota Owner's 400, doing so just two days after NASCAR slammed him and his team with a massive 50-point penalty and a monster $200,000 fine when Kenseth's engine failed inspection following his win at Kansas.
Thursday, Kenseth called the sanctions "grossly unfair," and Lee White, president of Toyota Development and Research, took full responsibility for the issue, saying it was their fault – not Joe Gibbs Racing – that a connecting rod in the engine was too light.
No matter for NASCAR, where there are no gray areas, only black and white. To be fair, it's impossible to judge intent, only outcomes, and in this case Kenseth did win a race with an unapproved part.
Should JGR be held accountable for a mistake made by the engine manufacturer? Well, if not the team racing the engine, then who?
Should the penalty have been so harsh considering it wasn't their mistake? If NASCAR starts down that road, it's opening itself to a dangerous precedent.
"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," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition. "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."
Come September, this will all be forgotten – well, except maybe by whoever's forking over the $200K NASCAR fined crew chief Jason Ratcliff – assuming Kenseth cruises into the Chase, which he should. In the now, though, there are still some hard feelings being bandied about.
"I respect NASCAR's view on it as far as the part was illegal so by the letter of the law, the part's illegal and there's consequences for that," Ratcliff said Friday morning. "I do not feel like the spirit of the law was compromised. That's where we felt like the severity of the penalty is extremely harsh."
The penalty dropped Kenseth to 14th in the standings, meaning he lost all of the cushion he'd built in the race toward the Chase. He does still have a win, which puts him in the wild card spot as of now. But with the way he's racing – he's led in six of eight races this season – making the Chase shouldn't be an issue.
Now he heads into Saturday night's race on the pole, just as he did last Sunday in Kansas.
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