Length of Penske Suspensions Reduced

Penske Racing

Roger Penske (left) had the suspensions of several team members reduced, including crew chief Paul Wolfe (shown here), but fines and point penalties remain in place following Tuesday's final appeal. (Photo: Getty Images)

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CONCORD, N.C. - The point penalties and fines remain, but team owner Roger Penske left Tuesday’s hearing pleased that the suspensions to seven team members were reduced by the National Stock Car Racing chief appellate officer.

"The key thing is to have our people back at the racetrack operating in full control," Penske said after the verdict was announced.

Among those who had their suspensions reduced were Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Brad Keselowski; Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano; and Penske Racing Competition Director Travis Geisler.

The decision by John Middlebrook is final and means the organization will have its team members back for the June 2 race at Dover, Del., instead of June 29 in Kentucky had the suspensions been upheld.

This marks the fifth time in six cases that Middlebrook has reduced penalties since becoming the chief appellate officer in 2010.  That could be a good sign for Joe Gibbs Racing, which begins its appeal process Wednesday.  JGR will appear before a three-person panel to argue the severity of the penalties issued for the lightweight connecting rod found in Matt Kenseth’s engine after he won last month at Kansas Speedway.  Should JGR not be satisfied with the panel’s decision, the next stage is for Middlebrook to hear that case.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Middlebrook did not explain why the 25-point driver and car owner penalties, and the $100,000 fines to both Penske crew chiefs remained but the suspensions were reduced.  He was not available to the media.

NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp said he didn’t think officials did anything wrong to have the suspensions reduced.

"We made it pretty clear last year when it came to the rear-end housing that the science project had gone far enough," Tharp said of the unapproved suspension parts that led to the Penske penalties.  "We put some new language in the rule book to address it.  We felt that the enforcement behind the penalty was warranted.  This is a strong reaction on our part."

NASCAR penalized the teams of Keselowski and Logano for issues found with the rear suspensions of both cars during pre-race inspection April 13 at Texas Motor Speedway.  The sanctioning body cited Rule No. 20-12, which covers more than two pages on suspension systems and components, in levying the penalties.

It reads, in part, that "all  suspension systems and components must be submitted for approval.  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 being used.  All suspension mounts and mounting hardware must not allow movement, or realignment of any suspension component beyond normal rotation or suspension travel."

The team appealed the penalties May 1 to the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel, which upheld the sanctions.  That led Penske to Tuesday's hearing before Middlebrook.

"I don’t think we were confused," Penske said.  "As we interpreted the rules, and these are undefined areas as far as we were concerned, we were operating in those particular areas."

Penske said his team wouldn’t back down in being innovative.

"This is an innovative sport and I can tell you the other 42 cars are out there innovating every day," he said.  "We’re going to continue to look at ways we can work which we feel are within the rule book.  Obviously, I don’t want to get to the edge - where NASCAR felt we were in this particular situation.  We’ve got to be competitive in order to win.  There are some very creative guys we meet every Sunday in NASCAR."

Penske declined to say who would replace Wolfe, Gordon and the other suspended crew members beginning this weekend at Darlington Raceway.

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