CONCORD, N.C.—Penske Racing won’t be getting any money or points back, but the organization won a substantial reduction of suspensions to key personnel at an appeal Tuesday before National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook.
NASCAR levied the penalties for use of unapproved parts in the rear end housings of Penske’s two Sprint Cup cars on Apr. 17 after confiscating the housings before the Apr. 13 NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Middlebrook upheld $100,000 fines to Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon, crew chiefs for the Nos. 2 and 22 Fords of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, respectively, and upheld penalties of 25 championship points each to Keselowski and Logano, and to the respective owners of record of the two cars, Roger Penske and Walt Czarnecki.
The chief appellate officer, however, reduced the suspensions of seven key team members from six points races to two. Wolfe and Gordon, as well as their car chiefs (Jerry Kelly and Raymond Fox), race engineers (Brian Wilson and Samuel Stanley) and Penske team manager Travis Geisler, will miss Sprint Cup points races at Darlington and Charlotte, as well-as the non-points Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte, but will be eligible to return to competition for the May 31-June 2 Cup weekend at Dover.
Penske initially appealed the sanctions May 1 to the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel, and all penalties were upheld. The organization then escalated the appeal to Middlebrook, who heard from both Penske executives and NASCAR officials on Tuesday, separately and jointly.
Roger Penske said an important element of Tuesday’s appeal was a frank dialogue with Middlebrook and Sprint Cup Series director John Darby.
“Today we had the opportunity to sit down across from John Middlebrook, the chief appellate officer and also John Darby,” Penske said after the ruling. “(John) Darby gave us specifics on our penalty—not just sections of the rule book.
“We were able to talk about areas that we worked in, which obviously were undefined in the rule book, and I think, at the end, after consideration by John Middlebrook, he felt that the fines and the penalties were overreaching and made the decision to reduce them.”
Penske indicated he was pleased with the outcome and said the team would announce replacements from the suspended personnel later this week.
“We’ll go to the track at Darlington without our key members, obviously,” Penske said. “We have a real strong bench. It’s past us now. We’ll move on, and I’ll have to say that the process was very fair and equitable that NASCAR was able to provide for Penske Racing and our whole team.”
NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp suggested that Tuesday’s hearing was a validation of NASCAR’s bifurcated appeals process.
“NASCAR is one of the few sports in America that has a two-tier appeals process,” Tharp said. “We believe in the teams getting due process when it comes to rules and regulations, and we believe that has happened here again today.”
The penalties imposed by NASCAR after the Apr. 13 race at Texas were historic in terms of the number of suspensions to key personnel.
NASCAR inspectors discovered the infractions involving the rear housings during pre-race inspection at Texas and confiscated the housings that were installed on both the No. 2 and 22 Fords. The Penske teams were required to replace both housings before the race. Keselowski’s car arrived at the starting grid in the nick of time, but Logano’s was late.
Consequently, Logano started the race from the rear of the field, but both drivers rallied to post top-10 finishes.