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RICHMOND, Va. -- Toyota Racing Development replaced the engine in Clint Bowyer's primary car this weekend at Richmond International Raceway because one connecting rod was too close to the legal minimum.
TRD pulled a total of three engines, all of them slated for Bowyer cars at Michael Waltrip Racing, in a review following severe penalties levied against Joe Gibbs Racing for a connecting rod in Matt Kenseth's winning engine from last weekend at Kansas that did not meet the legal minimum. TRD manufactures engines for both the Gibbs and Waltrip teams.
"The very first thing we did once we knew we had a problem on Tuesday of this week was -- are we going to be OK at Richmond?" David Wilson, TRD's senior vice president, said Saturday at Richmond International Raceway. "So we went and scrubbed all of the paperwork on every single engine, not just in the primary cars, but also in the spares and the backups. We found that the engine for Clint's primary car had one connecting rod that was too close to the limit. And we don't need to be too close to the limit anymore."
In post-race inspection, one connecting rod in Kenseth's car was found to be 2.7 grams lighter than the minimum allowable weight of 525 set forth in the Sprint Cup Series Rule Book. NASCAR takes a hard line on engine infractions, which was evident in the penalties that followed. Kenseth was docked 50 points, had his pole disallowed, and his victory was disqualified from Chase for the Sprint Cup consideration. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff was suspended six weeks and fined $200,000.
Even owner Joe Gibbs felt the sting, having his owner's license suspended for six weeks. JGR is appealing the sanctions to the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel, which will hear the team's argument at a date still to be announced. The fine and suspensions are on hold until after the appeal is heard, although the point deduction went into effect immediately and dropped Kenseth to 14th in the standings.
That episode led TRD to review the engines it already had in the pipeline. In addition to Bowyer's primary engine for Richmond, the company also determined that two engines slated for Bowyer cars next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway had connecting rods that were too close to the limit. Those engines were pulled out of circulation as well.
For TRD, how close is now too close? "NASCAR's scale weighs a couple of grams heavy, so it's to our favor. So I think out best-case scenario is we stay at least two grams north of the minimum," Wilson said before the start of Saturday night's race.
"One of the action items we've taken is to adjust our tolerance," he added. "In the end as an engine builder, you want to be close. It's a rotating mass, and lighter is better. That's why NASCAR has to set a floor. But you don't need to be right on top of that floor."
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