DARLINGTON, S.C. ? Decisions in recent appeals may prompt NASCAR to clarify language in its rule book, in order to provide competitors with a better understanding of regulations.
"I don't know that we know exactly what the appeal members were thinking," NASCAR President Mike Helton said Friday at Darlington Raceway. "But from the experience, if there's a way for us to be more precise in changing wording or adding wording to a rule so that the clarity of what we feel like our responsibility is [can be] translated to the member, and is obvious to anybody on the outside looking at it, I think that's where we benefit, and I think the sport benefits from that."
Helton's comments come after two recent penalties were amended by the sport's appeals process. On Wednesday, three members of the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel overturned some of the harshest penalties levied against Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 team for a connecting rod in Matt Kenseth's winning Kansas engine that was found to be too light in post-race inspection. Last week, Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook slashed suspensions to seven Penske Racing crewmen for rear-end housing violations discovered at Texas.
In the Penske case, the seven team members involved. Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon -- crew chiefs for Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, respectively -- had their suspensions cut from six points races to two, although Middlebrook left intact 25-point deductions to the drivers. After losing his initial appeal, Roger Penske said his team was working in undefined areas of the rule book.
NASCAR may now work to provide those areas with more definition. "We do learn from the appeal process as to how we may be able to write or be more clear so that you can show a third party why we reacted the way we reacted. It's part of our process. The appeal process has been a part of our sport just like the officiating and regulating has been ever since its existence," Helton said.
"I think there is evidence of NASCAR, particularly in the last decade or so, to try to be more clear with things, and every experience we go through gives us the ability to understand what 'more clear' means."
The Gibbs penalty involved a connecting rod supplied by a vendor, and placed in an engine made by Toyota Racing Development. The appeals board cut a points penalty to Kenseth from 50 to 12 points, reinstated Gibbs' owners' license, restored Kenseth's victory toward Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup qualification, and reduced a suspension to crew chief Jason Ratcliff from six points races to one -- Saturday night at Darlington.
Helton said NASCAR would react the same way in the same circumstance. "Across the board, we put a lot of thought into our reaction to start with, and every time something like this occurs, we put a lot of thought into it," he said. "The circumstances of each element are so different, it's due that respect. But when we do make a decision, it's well thought-out, and we'll stick by our decisions, also understanding the due process has the ability to change it."
That rigid stance especially applies to engines, an area in which NASCAR has always taken a hard line, and engines are an element officials cannot inspect until after the race weekend is complete.
"I think all of motorsports, from go-karts to the weekly tracks to the grass-roots level to all the national series that exist, engines are understood to be in that holy grail bucket, and we need to make sure we maintain the responsibility around the engine to be shared by the competitors," Helton said. "Because it's not realistic for us to take a motor down in advance of an event, like it is with parts and pieces ? that are visible to us. The motor is something we cannot take apart until after our event is over with. So the entire industry has historically, and will continue, to share the responsibility in that engine being correct."
Helton added that he did not think the recent appeals decisions undermine NASCAR's authority over the garage area.
"I think the members that are involved in the sport -- the team owners, the suppliers, the (manufacturers) and everything -- understand our responsibility and how seriously we take it," he said. "I don't think this in anyway undermines what we do. In most cases, the process doesn't come back with anything that really changes our mind much. We do our job and the due process exists for the members to have an opportunity for others to listen to it, and the decisions are made that way."
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