COMMENTARY | So NASCAR admitted it was wrong ... kind of.
This was NASCAR's courtroom week, with both the Joe GIbbs Racing and Penske Racing teams appealing serious penalties levied against them in recent weeks (Gibbs for an engine violation that had landed them a whopping 50-point penalty to Matt Kenseth; Penske for unapproved suspension parts and 25-point penalties to both drivers).
In a somewhat surprising move, the verdicts came down to some degree in the teams' favor.
Gibbs, which had been far-too-harshly punished for an error that was not of their doing and didn't really help them win anyway, saw the most redemption this week.
That 50-point penalty -- boom, it's now 12 points. That skyrockets Kenseth up to 4th in points, and he's almost destined to be near the top of the standings now come Chase time, since his Kansas win will count for Chase eligibility and he's running up front every week. Kenseth is having an awesome year, and proving that his move to Gibbs from Roush was the right choice, and would no doubt have been in the Chase regardless of this ruling, but a bonus 38 points is a great gift to get.
In other common sense moves in the GIbbs case, Joe Gibbs' loss of 50 owner points was reduced from 50 to 12, and the suspension of his car owner's license was rescinded (a silly penalty to begin with). And crew chief Jason Ratcliff is suspended for one week, not six.
In the case of Kenseth and the Gibbs team, the appeals board got it right without a doubt -- a somewhat surprising turn of events due to NASCAR's usual rigidness in their decisions.
The LessonLooking ahead, what do we take from this? The lesson I see is that NASCAR knows it went too far with their extreme penalties and suspensions here, blaming the 20 team for something done by TRD at the engine building level. We'll see how NASCAR proceeds in the future with engine violations, but I doubt they'll go overboard like they did here, barring willful manipulation of an engine by a team to gain an advantage (something that that didn't happen with the 20 team).
The problem that began this all was what would seem to most as an innocent infraction: one of eight connecting rods measured two grams below the minimum weight of 525 grams specified in NASCAR's voluminous rulebook. But in NASCAR, any tinkering with the engine is not something that is taken lightly (just ask Carl Long, a low-level driver whose engine-related penalty in 2009 essential locked him out of Cup racing permanently since he can't afford to pay his $200K fine over an engine that didn't even give him any advantage).
After the ruling, Joe Gibbs said he will work to make sure this type of issue "never happens" in the future. I can say one thing with certainly; the folks at TRD better get their stuff together and never repeat the error they made here, or some employees might be looking for a job soon. TRD engines have shown some reliability issues in recent years overall, so this kind of mistake only shines a spotlight on an area that's already pretty concerning.
Penske rulingThe appeals board wasn't as kind to Penske Racing, but they still got a little bit of a bone thrown their way. The 25-point penalties to Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano still stand, but their crew chiefs will be back sooner than previously expected (out two points races instead of 6).
Joey Logano is harder hit by the points penalty, as he's farther from Chase territory now than he was after a hot start to this year. But Brad is still solidly in Chase territory and will likely be contending for another title come fall.
So did the Penske team get a fair shake in this whole deal? I still say no, because they got busted for working in the same kind of "gray area" that Jimmie Johnson's team was allowed to work in last year. It smacks of favoritism and I still don't like the ruling.
But by giving back the crew chiefs earlier, both the 2 and 22 teams can get back in their regular routines as they work to improve their standing each week, so the appeal wasn't completely for nothing.
The LessonSo what's the lesson coming out of the Penske fines: Teams (especially Penske Racing)will have to think really carefully before they continue working in the gray areas, which will be monitored like a hawk now by NASCAR. Sure you want to push the envelope, but is it worth the risk of the penalties that will come if you go too far?
Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu
- Motor Racing
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- Matt Kenseth
- Joe GIbbs Racing
- Joe Gibbs