Matt Kenseth thinks his Joe Gibbs Racing team—and in particular, team owner Joe Gibbs—was penalized excessively for violations Kenseth characterized as a mistake.
“I think the penalties are grossly unfair—I think it’s borderline shameful,” Kenseth said during a press conference Thursday at Richmond International Raceway.
After Kenseth won last Sunday’s STP 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, NASCAR took his No. 20 Toyota back to the R&D center in Concord, N.C. That’s where the sanctioning body discovered a connecting rod that weighed less than the 525-gram required minimum for the engine part.
NASCAR reacted by issuing one of the severest penalties on record, fining crew chief Jason Ratcliff $200,000 and placing him on suspension for six Cup points races. The sanctioning body also docked Kenseth 50 championship points and Gibbs 50 owner points.
Gibbs also suffered a six-week suspension of his owner’s license, during which the NO. 20 Camry will not earn points towards the owners’ championship. NASCAR also stripped Kenseth and Gibbs of the benefits of winning the race, including the loss of bonus points when the Chase field is set after the 26th race.
Neither will Kenseth’s pole-winning run last Friday count toward eligibility for next year’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, the exhibition race featuring the previous year’s Coors Light pole winners and past winners of the event.
No one disputed the NASCAR’s finding, neither Kenseth nor Toyota Racing Development, which builds the Cup engines for JGR and Michael Waltrip Racing. What Kenseth questioned was the extent of the penalties, particularly to Gibbs and Ratcliff, who he said had no knowledge of the underweight part.
TRD has assumed full responsibility for a quality-control mistake. According to TRD, the connection rod was less than three grams lighter than required.
“There’s no argument the part was wrong,” Kenseth said. “They weighed it and it was wrong. However, there is an argument that there certainly was no performance advantage. If you can find any unbiased, reputable, knowledgeable engine builder, and if they saw the facts, what all the rods weighed …
“The average weight of all the rods was well above the minimum–2.5 (grams) above the minimum at least. There was one in there that was way heavy. There was no performance advantage, there was no intent, it was a mistake. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) had no control over it. Certainly to crush Joe Gibbs like that–to say they can’t win an owner’s championship with the 20 this year is just, I can’t wrap my arms around that. It just blows me away.
“And the same with Jason Ratcliff. I don’t feel bad for myself at all, but for Jason and Joe, I just couldn’t feel any worse. There’s no more reputable, honest hard-working guys with good reputations more so than them two. I feel really bad for them.”
JGR is appealing the penalties in hopes of mitigating the severity of the punishment.