JGR Penalties Significantly Reduced

Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth’s 50-point penalty was reduced to 12. He moves from 11th to fourth in the point standings with 317 points. (Photo: Getty Images)

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CONCORD, N.C. - A three-man appeals panel gave Joe Gibbs Racing a resounding victory Wednesday that left NASCAR facing questions about how it enforces its rules.

“This is one we disagree with," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. “I don’t know how I can put it any more clearer than that."

The appeals panel reduced or rescinded most of the penalties to Joe Gibbs, Matt Kenseth and the team for a connecting rod that weighed less than the minimum 525 grams. The infraction was discovered after Kenseth won last month at Kansas Speedway.

Officials from Toyota Racing Development, which builds the Sprint Cup engines for JGR, took responsibility. Gibbs had said he would argue against the severity of the penalties.

The panel cut Kenseth’s penalty from 50 to 12 points. That moves him from 11th to fourth in the driver standings, heading into Saturday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

The panel also allowed Kenseth’s victory at Kansas to count toward wildcard eligibility should he need it. He also regains the three bonus points that will count toward his Chase point total should he qualify. Gibbs faced the same reductions. The panel rescinded NASCAR’s decision to bar Gibbs from collecting owner points for six points races.

Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, saw his suspension for six points races reduced to one, but his $200,000 fine remained. The panel increased Toyota’s penalty from five to seven points in the manufacturer standings.

NASCAR cannot appeal Wednesday’s verdict.

Gibbs did not gloat after his victory, saying “we just want to get back to racing.’’ He also noted that the team would not appeal any of the remaining penalties.

There really isn’t a need to after the stunning changes.

The appeals panel had upheld NASCAR’s penalties in 70 percent of the 150 cases it has heard since 1999. Wednesday’s panel had Mark Arute, chief operating officer and general manager of Stafford Motor Speedway, Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Motorsports, and Jack Housby, a former team owner.

Their ruling left Tharp to defend NASCAR’s penalties.

“We believe in our enforcement process," he said. “We have to regulate the sport. We have to have some teeth behind it when we regulate the sport.’’

The question is how much strength is behind NASCAR with its penalties? While the appeals panel often sides with NASCAR, recent decisions by the chief appellate officer, John Middlebrook, have led to reductions in penalties in five of the six cases he’s heard since 2010.

Gibbs stated last month that there was no intent to circumvent the rules by having one connecting rod light and that should matter. Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition, said last month that officials do not consider intent when issuing penalties.

Might that change?

Tharp said no.

“I don’t see how it can be," he said. “We cannot sit back and speculate on intention or something being unintentional. We have to regulate it based upon whether it was right or whether it was wrong. Certainly, as (Joe) Gibbs alluded, it was a mistake on the part of the engine builder. In our system, our only recourse is to reinforce this and penalize the team owner and team members.

“Is it within the rule book or is it not within the rule book? That’s how we’re going to stay."

Tharp said that NASCAR’s inspections also won’t change.

Recent decisions by the appeal panels and the chief appellate officer, though, suggest that something needs to change with how NASCAR enforces penalties.

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