NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano may find out Wednesday if their crew chiefs and other support personnel will join them at Talladega Superspeedway -- and for the next several race weekends beyond that.
An appeal of penalties levied against the Penske Racing teammates for rules violations discovered April 13 at Texas Motor Speedway will be heard at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C. Three members from the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel will hear arguments, and have the power to uphold, reduce or even increase the original sanctions.
Prior to the event in Fort Worth, NASCAR officials confiscated the rear-end housings from both Keselowski's No. 2 and Logano's No. 22 cars, prompting a scramble to get the parts changed and push the vehicles back through inspection before the start of the race. Logano was ordered to start at the rear for not making it to the grid soon enough, but the real penalties were issued days later.
On April 17, NASCAR docked Keselowski and Logano 25 points each, and handed out a number of other penalties to the Penske Racing teams for violating sections of the 2013 Sprint Cup Series Rule Book that deal with the size of mounting holes and limitations on movement or realignment of suspension parts beyond normal rotation or travel. Rear ends have been under scrutiny since last year, when many teams experimented with yawed setups on the previous generation of car.
In addition to the point deductions, NASCAR suspended both Keselowski's crew chief, Paul Wolfe, and Logano's crew chief, Todd Gordon, for six points races, in addition to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Both crew chiefs were also fined $100,000. Also suspended from the No. 2 team were car chief Jerry Kelley and team engineer Brian Wilson, while car chief Raymond Fox III and team engineer Samuel Stanley were suspended for the same length of time from the No. 22 program. Travis Geisler, Penske's competition director, was suspended six weeks as well.
The suspensions are on hold pending the result of the appeal, although the point deductions went into effect immediately. If the Appeals Panel upholds NASCAR's decision and Penske does not appeal further, the suspended personnel will be out until the June 23 event at Sonoma.
"We need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Logano said recently. "So we will prepare for the worst. We'll obviously bring some extra people to try to have some overlap within our team to prepare for if the appeal doesn't go the way we expect it to. So we need to always do that. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and we'll get through this. Penske Racing has a lot of depth in the company. They're very strong, and we will get through this."
The point deductions initially dropped Logano out of the top 10, and knocked Keselowski from second place in the Sprint Cup standings. Logano is now 17th after Saturday night's third-place finish at Richmond, while Keselowski has fallen to sixth following an engine problem and a 33rd-place result on the short track.
"Losing 25 points is not what you want to do by any means, but again it's not over yet. There are still a lot of processes to go through. I'm not putting any thought into that until those processes have run their course," Keselowski said recently. "I view challenge as an opportunity. It's an opportunity to prove your strength and prove yourself to those that don't believe in you. This is certainly a very challenging time and I'm looking at it as an opportunity."
Some of the rules the Penske teams fell afoul of were altered for 2013 due to the redesigned Generation-6 car. "Our guys are innovative, we're looking at the rules, looking at areas where maybe we can get an edge like everybody else is," team owner Roger Penske said following the Texas race. "I don't think we did anything wrong. Obviously it's a judgment, and we'll deal with it with NASCAR."
"It's teams pushing everything to the edge and trying to interpret the rules the right way," Logano added. "And sometimes that becomes a challenge, I believe. It happens. It's part of our sport. We want to win races as bad as anybody. And everyone's going to do that, everyone's going to try to find ? a competitive advantage within the rules."
The three members of the Appeals Panel who will hear Wednesday's argument are drawn from a larger pool of 48 including former drivers, crew chiefs, team owners and administrators, as well as current and former track operators. Should the penalties be upheld, Penske can make a final plea to Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook, a former General Motors executive who overturned a 25-point penalty to Jimmie Johnson and a six-week suspension to crew chief Chad Knaus last year.
Wednesday's Penske appeal comes one week before Joe Gibbs Racing will appeal heavy penalties -- including a 50-point deduction to Matt Kenseth, and a six-week suspension and $200,000 fine to crew chief Jason Ratcliff -- NASCAR levied against the No. 20 team after the engine it used to win at Kansas was found to have a connecting rod lighter than the minimum weight. That appeal will be heard May 8, also at the R&D Center.
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