DARLINGTON, S.C.—When Matt Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing team won a significant reduction of penalties on appeal, the benefits for Kenseth were obvious.
But the National Stock CarRacing Appeals Panel’s ruling also helped Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who needs every edge he can find in a long-shot attempt to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Where Kenseth is concerned, the reduction of his points penalty from 50 to 12 vaulted the driver of the No. 20 Toyota to fourth in the Cup standings, solidly in a Chase-eligible position. The original 50-point penalty—the result of an underweight connecting rod NASCAR discovered in Kenseth’s race-winning car after the Apr. 21 event at Kansas—had knocked Kenseth outside the top 10.
Hamlin missed four races after suffering a compression fracture of his first lumbar vertebra in a last-lap crash at Fontana, Calif., in late March. Last week at Talladega, he gave way to relief driver Brian Vickers after 23 laps and earned 10 points after Vickers finished 34th.
That left Hamlin 31st in the points, needing to win at least one race and improve 11 positions in the standings to compete for a Wild Card spot in the Chase.
If Kenseth, who has won twice, remains in the top 10, that’s one potential Wild Card driver Hamlin won’t have to beat. (The two Wild Card positions in the Chase go to the two drivers in positions 11-20 in the standings with the most victories. If drivers have an equal number of wins, the tiebreaker is position in the standings.)
In Hamlin’s view, the reduction of Kenseth’s points penalty opened up a Wild Card spot.
“It now put him (Kenseth) solidly inside the top-10, so that was big,” Hamlin told the NASCAR Wire Service on Friday at Darlington Raceway. “Honestly, until I win races, I’ve got to root on all the frontrunners to win the next few weeks at least until the Chase starts to not occupy Chase spots.
“So it was big for us because Matt has had a win on record, and he was outside the top-10, so that was big. The rescinding really helped us a ton also.”