Crew chief, driver, owner all penalized over illegal connecting rod
Matt Kenseth’s race team was hit with a severe penalty from NASCAR on Wednesday, one the Joe Gibbs Racing driver will feel the sting of all the way into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Kenseth was docked 50 points, and lost the three Chase bonus points he would have received for winning last weekend’s event at Kansas Speedway, after a connecting rod in the engine of his No. 20 car failed to meet minimum weight. The violation was discovered Tuesday in post-race engine inspection at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C.
In addition, crew chief Jason Ratcliff has been fined $200,000, suspended for the next six Sprint Cup events, including the non-points Sprint All-Star Race. Car owner Joe Gibbs was docked 50 owners’ points and had his license suspended for six races, during which he will be ineligible to receive owners’ points. Kenseth’s pole at Kansas will not be allowed for eligibility into the 2014 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, and in a rare step Toyota was docked five points in the manufacturer standings.
Kenseth’s victory at Kansas was his second of the season. As is customary, the race-winning engine was taken to the NASCAR R&D Center for inspection. Although Joe Gibbs Racing engines are provided by Toyota Racing Development, the team is ultimately held responsible for what it brings to the race track. Gibbs Racing said it plans to appeal through the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel.
According to NASCAR, the No. 20 team’s Kansas engine violated the sections of the 2013 Sprint Cup Series Rule Book that stipulate connecting rods must be made of solid magnetic steel and have a minimum weight of 525 grams. Each of the eight rods in a Sprint Cup engine is weighed with its connecting rod cap and cap fastener.
Joe Gibbs Racing said in a statement that one of the engine’s connecting rods was ruled too light. “We are working with our partners at TRD on this issue,” the team said. “In the meantime, we will plan to appeal the penalty.”
Toyota said in a statement that the connecting rod in question was three grams under the legal minimum weight, and none of the other seven were found to be at fault.
"We take full responsibility for this issue with the engine used by the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) team this past Sunday in Kansas -- JGR is not involved in the process of selecting parts or assembling the Cup Series engines," TRD president Lee White said. "It was a simple oversight on TRD's part and there was no intent to deceive, or to gain any type of competitive advantage. Toyota is a company that was built on integrity, and that remains one of the guiding principles of the company. The goal of TRD has always been -- and will continue to be -- to build high-performance engines that are reliable, durable and powerful, and within the guidelines established by NASCAR."
Kenseth stood eighth in the Sprint Cup standings following his victory at Kansas, but the loss of 50 points would drop him to 14th. His Kansas win will also not be credited toward Chase Wild Card eligibility.
NASCAR traditionally takes a very hard line on engines, which by rule cannot exceed 358 cubic inch displacement. One of the most severe penalties ever levied by the sanctioning body involved the engine of driver Carl Long, which was found to be too large during Sprint All-Star Race weekend in 2009. Long’s team was fined $200,000 while the driver was docked 200 points and suspended for 12 weeks, although that number was reduced to eight upon appeal.
Not even potential NASCAR Hall of Fame members are immune from the sport’s stringent engine guidelines. Maurice Petty, engine builder for brother Richard Petty and a nominee for next year’s Hall of Fame class, was fined $35,000 for an engine in the No. 43 car that was found to be too large following the 1983 fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His brother was also docked 104 points.
NASCAR has nullified Chase bonus points before -- in 2008, Carl Edwards lost the 10 bonus points he would have garnered under the old scoring system after the cover of his vehicle’s oil reservoir tank was found to be missing in inspection following a victory at Las Vegas. Crew chief Bob Osborne was suspended six races, and the 10 bonus points Edwards would have carried into the Chase were withdrawn.
The penalty to Kenseth’s team comes in the wake of sanctions levied last week against Penske Racing. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano each lost 25 points, while their respective crew chiefs, car chiefs and race engineers were all suspended six weeks for rear-end housing parts that were confiscated prior to the April 13 race at Texas. Penske is appealing the penalties, and the suspended crewmen have been allowed to work until that appeal is heard Wednesday morning.
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