CONCORD, N.C. -- Roger Penske has lost an appeal of penalties levied against his Sprint Cup race teams, but will make a final plea to the sport's Chief Appellate Officer.
Three members from the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel on Wednesday unanimously upheld fines, suspensions and point deductions stemming from rear-end parts that were confiscated from the cars of Penske Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano prior to the April 13 at Texas Motor Speedway. Penske will now make one final argument to the Chief Appellate Officer, whose decision is final.
"Obviously, a disappointing outcome with the panel," Penske said at the NASCAR Research and Development Center, where the appeal was heard. "We met with the panel probably for over four or five hours. It's a good process. I feel we have a good case, and we're allowed to under the NASCAR rules in the rule book to appeal this to the next level. We've notified NASCAR that we will go ahead and appeal this ruling today to the next level. Because of that, I really can't make any other comments."
The three members of the 48-person appeals panel who heard Wednesday's arguments were Brandon Igdalsky, president of Pocono Raceway; Dale Pinilis, operator of Bowman Gray Stadium; and Paul Brooks, a former NASCAR senior vice president.
"We take our inspection process very seriously. We believe we do a strong and credible job with it," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "And we think that the level playing field of competition now in the garage is the best it's ever been. ? As the sanctioning body, we've got to uphold the rules and regulations that are in the rule book. That's part of our job. The inspection process we believe in very, very strongly, and I believe the garage does, too."
Keselowski and Logano were each docked 25 points by NASCAR after officials confiscated the rear-end housings in the Nos. 2 and 22 cars during inspection prior to the Texas race. Paul Wolfe, crew chief on the No. 2 car, was fined $100,000 and suspended for six points events plus the Sprint All-Star Race, as was Todd Gordon, his counterpart on the No. 22 car.
Suspended for the same duration were Keselowski's car chief Jerry Kelley and team engineer Brian Wilson, as were Logano's car chief Raymond Fox and team engineer Samuel Stanley. Travis Geisler, competition director for the Penske team and a former crew chief, was also suspended six weeks. All suspended personnel were also placed on probation through Dec. 31.
The violations stemmed from infractions on the vehicles' rear ends, leading to a rushed change-out of the confiscated parts during pre-race ceremonies at Texas, and forcing Logano to start at the rear of the field because NASCAR ruled his car did not make the starting grid on time. Penalties followed days later, with NASCAR determining that the rear-end setups violated sections of the rule book pertaining to the correct size of mounting holes, and limitations on movement or realignment of suspension parts beyond normal rotation or travel.
Wolfe, Gordon, Geisler, and the other suspended members of the Penske team have been able to work through the appeals process, although the point deductions to the drivers have already gone into effect. The suspended personnel will continue to be able to work until the final appeal is held on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
The appeal began at 9 a.m. Wednesday, and ended at around 2:45 p.m. In addition to the team owner, the Penske delegation also included vice chairman Walt Czarnecki -- the listed owner of the No. 22 car -- and president Tim Cindric, as well as Wolfe, Gordon and Geisler. Keselowski was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday completing the second and final day of a Goodyear tire test.
"All I can say about the process is, I think it's fair and equitable," Penske said. "We had the opportunity to explain our case, the situation in detail. Obviously the information that we were able to demonstrate to the panel, they determined they would uphold the violations. We will obviously move on to the next step."
Middlebrook, a retired General Motors executive, last year overturned a 25-point penalty to Jimmie Johnson and six-week suspension to crew chief Chad Knaus for technical violations on the No. 48 car prior to the Daytona 500, although he left intact a $100,000 fine. But he also upheld suspensions to two members of Richard Childress Racing's No. 27 team, who were penalized for illegal modifications of frame rails.
Next Wednesday brings another appeal, this one by Joe Gibbs Racing, which will argue penalties levied against the No. 20 team for a connecting rod in Matt Kenseth's winning Kansas engine that was lighter than the minimum allowable weight. Kenseth was docked 50 points for that infraction, while crew chief Jason Ratcliff was suspended six weeks and fined $200,000, and Gibbs had his owners' license frozen for six weeks.
The connecting rod in question was manufactured by a vendor and placed in an engine built by Toyota Racing Development, which has said the violation was not an attempt to gain a competitive edge, and did not provide one. As is the case with the suspended Penske crewmen, Ratcliff can work until the appeal process is complete, although the point deduction has already gone into effect.
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