NASCAR issued penalties Wednesday to the No. 2 Team Penske Ford, driven to a fifth-place finish by Brad Keselowski at Phoenix Sunday.
The car was found to be in violation of sections 126.96.36.199.2 of the NASCAR Rule Book (post-race general inspection measurements, weights and measures). As a result, crew chief Paul Wolfe was fined $65,000 and suspended from the next three Cup Series points races. The team was assessed with the loss of 35 driver points and 35 owner points. In addition, the fifth-place finish in the Camping World 500 is encumbered, per section 12.10 of the NASCAR Rule Book.
About the time the penalties were being announced, Keselowski was being interviewed on Fox Sports NASCAR Race Hub. He was quick to defend his crew chief.
“Well, first off, my crew chief, Paul Wolfe, is an elite crew chief, and I feel really lucky to have him,” Keselowski said. “He’s one of those guys who wins races every year and he has great cars and great speed. If you look through NASCAR’s loop data, which is a fancy term for a bunch of numbers, we’re leading in a lot of categories, and one of them is speed. Speed in the car. A large part of the credit of that goes to Paul Wolfe and his leadership for our team. To lose a guy like that, it definitely hurts. He’s a great asset to our team, but this is one of those setbacks that I think every team faces and we’re just going to have to get through it.”
Keselowski talked about interim crew chief Brian Wilson who will take over Cup duties during Wolfe’s suspension.
“He’ll do the best we can during that time,” he added. “The good thing about Brian Wilson is he comes from the Xfinity side as a crew chief who just won with Joey Logano at Las Vegas. But even before that, he was on the 2 team as the lead engineer, so a lot of knowledge and experience, and we look forward to working together with him.”
In addition to Team Penske, NASCAR also penalized the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford of driver Kevin Harvick for violations of sections 188.8.131.52 I-4 of the NASCAR Rule Book (track bar mount and supports. Crew chief Rodney Childers was fined $25,000 and suspended from the next Cup Series points race. The team was assessed with the loss of 10 driver and 10 team owner points. Harvick’s sixth-place finish at Phoenix is also encumbered.
“I think it’s real important to explain why points matter this year,” Keselowski said on Race Hub. “Last year, you got a win and you locked in and you got to the next round. This year with points, you still lock in with wins. The difference is there’s a huge points bonus for having the most points at the end of the season that carries all the way through the playoffs, and you only get that bonus if you’re one of the best cars and leading up front at the end of the regular season, which requires having a lot of points. Thirty-five points is a pretty big deal, and so is 10 points for Kevin (Harvick) and his team.”
As for the infraction of the No. 2, Keselowski said the team still isn’t sure exactly what happened.
“One of the biggest things on this topic is we ran all the same parts on the car at Phoenix that we had run at all the other races, even the one we won at Atlanta,” Keselowski said. “And all those parts were good and they passed inspection pre- and post-race. So, there’s a lot of questions for our team, like we don’t understand exactly what happened, and you saw that with the statement that Team Penske released. So, we’ve still got to figure out what happened and that’s probably the most concerning thing because we feel like we built a car that was legal. It passed pre-race inspection. We don’t want it to happen again, and we don’t understand what happened. So right now, that’s the most concerning thing – trying to figure out, because honestly, we don’t know.”