Next Appeal Level for Penske Racing

Penske Racing

After losing Wednesday’s appeal, car owner Roger Penske said he will take his case to John Middlebrook, the National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer. (Photo: Getty Images)


CONCORD, N.C. - Now the fate of Penske Racing rests with one man.

After losing Wednesday’s appeal, car owner Roger Penske said he will take his case to John Middlebrook, the National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer.

Middlebrook, a former General Motors executive, has proved tough to gauge in previous decisions, rescinding some penalties and providing little explanation for his rationale.

It is this murky setting Penske Racing enters when Middlebrook hears its case at noon May 7.

Wednesday’s action by the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel, though, was not surprising. The panel has upheld NASCAR’s penalties in 70 percent of the 150 cases heard since 1999.

Penske is appealing penalties NASCAR imposed after issues with the rear suspension on the cars of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. The problems were detected before the April 13 Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

NASCAR cited the Penske teams for unapproved suspension parts. NASCAR also stated that all suspension fasteners and mounting hardware must be made of solid magnetic steel, all suspension mounts with mounting hardware assembled must have single round mounting holes that are the correct size for the fastener, and all suspension mounts and mounting hardware must not allow movement or realignment beyond normal travel.

NASCAR docked Keselowski, Logano and their teams 25 driver and car owner points each, fined their crew chiefs $100,000 and suspended seven team members for six Cup points races (and the Sprint All-Star race).

The seven team members facing suspension _ including their crew chiefs _ can work this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

Other than stating it was a “disappointing outcome,’’ Penske said little, citing plans to appeal the decision.

Penske’s case Wednesday was heard by Pocono Raceway President & CEO Brandon Igdalsky, former NASCAR executive Paul Brooks and Bowman Gray Promoter Dale Pinilis. All three voted to uphold NASCAR’s penalties.

NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said the panel’s verdict validates the sanctioning body’s actions.

“We take our inspection process very seriously,’’ Tharp said. “We believe we do a strong and credible job with it.

“As the sanctioning body we’ve got to uphold the rules and regulations that are in the rule book.’’

It is Middlebrook’s job to make sure NASCAR is doing this.

Middlebrook provided a curious decision last year in his highest profile case since becoming the chief appellate officer in 2010.

After finding issues with the C-posts on Jimmie Johnson’s car during inspection at Daytona in February 2012, NASCAR docked Johnson 25 points, fined crew chief Chad Knaus $100,000 and suspended Knaus and car chief Ron Malec six races.

Middlebrook rescinded all the penalties except the fine to Knaus. That left many to question why some penalties were taken away but the fine remained. Middlebrook did not explain the decision in his report.

Middlebrook did uphold the six-race suspensions of the car chief and crew member for Paul Menard’s team last year after the Richard Childress Racing team was penalized for modified frame rails. The team also was penalized points and crew chief Slugger Labbe was fined $100,000 and suspended six races but Childress did not appeal those penalties.

In 2010, Middlebrook altered some of NASCAR’s penalties Clint Bowyer and RCR suffered after Bowyer’s winning car at New Hampshire failed inspection. Middlebrook kept the 150-point penalty to Bowyer but reduced crew chief Shane Wilson’s fine from $150,000 to $100,000 and cut the six-race suspension for Wilson and car chief Chad Haney to four races.

No explanation was given for those changes except to state the “penalties are consistent and fair to both parties involved.’’

Just what that means only Middlebrook knows.

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