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NASCAR moves the penalty box

May 8, 2013

NASCAR’s iron hand of justice has been rather heavy of late, with two appeals to listen to and rule upon. First up were Penske Racing, whose suspension systems and components didn’t quite meet the letter of the rules for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing. Discrepancies were discovered during pre-race inspection for the Texas Motor Speedway round on April 13th.

Initially, the appeals court upheld penalties meted out to the No. 2 and No. 22 Ford Fusion race cars of Penske Racing; John Middlebrook, NASCAR’s chief appellate officer heard the appeal of those penalties on Tuesday, May 7. Middlebrook upheld the fines and points penalties originally assessed, which were a $100,000 fine for No. 2 crew chief Paul Wolfe, loss of 25 championship owner points (Roger Penske) and 25 championship driver points for reigning champion Brad Keselowski.

The No. 22’s crew chief, Todd Gordon was also fined $100,000 and Walt Czarnecki lost 25 championship owner points; Joey Logano lost 25 driver points.

The suspensions for seven team members: Wolfe, No. 2 car chief Jerry Kelley, team engineer Brian Wilson and competition director Travis Geisler were reduced from six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points-paying events (and the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star race) to two championship points-paying events and the All-Star event. On the No. 22, Gordon, car chief Raymond Foxx and team engineer Samuel Stanley received the same reduction in suspensions.

These unlucky seven crewmembers will be back on-hand at Dover International Speedway but are suspended until that time; they remain on NASCAR probation until the end of the calendar year.

Team owner Roger Penske admitted the team had been exercising its ability to work in a “gray area” of the rules, something he’s done with grand success in the past. NASCAR wasn’t impressed by this argument; the admission likely hurt his case.

A day after the reduced penalties were announced, Penske Racing revised its roster, naming Mike Nelson, currently vice president of operations as overall team manager. Crew chief for the No. 2 car will be Kevin Buskirk, who currently runs the team’s testing program, Jonathan Hassler is race engineer and Nick Hensley gets the nod as car chief through the Charlotte meeting; Steve Reis is crew chief on the No. 22 Ford, while Ben Atkins is race engineer and car chief for Logano is Jeffery Thousand. Penske Racing noted that Sam Hornish Jr’s Nationwide Series crew chief, Greg Erwin will take the perch atop the pit box to serve as race strategist for Logano through the end of May.

A day later NASCAR’s appeals panel took up the Joe Gibbs Racing penalty for a single connecting rod that was 2.7 grams under the specified weight of 525.0 grams (the other seven con rods were all well over the minimum). The appeals panel left intact a $200,000 fine to No. 20 Toyota Camry crew chief Jason Ratcliff; his suspension was reduced from six races to this weekend’s race at Darlington, while probation remains for the next three championship points events following Ratcliff’s reinstatement.

The appeals panel reduced the onus to car owner Joe Gibbs, who was originally docked 50 points and will now lose only 12 points with all other components of his penalty rescinded. Driver Matt Kenseth lost 12 points (instead of 50) and all other penalties were rescinded. Toyota lost seven points, rather than five as originally decreed, taking the brunt of the pain in this case.

By Anne Proffit


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