Posted: 5:59 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, 2013
By Jordan Bianchi
There is no other way to say it other than Joe Gibbs Racing scored a decisive victory Wednesday when a three-member appeals board dramatically reduced the heavy sanctions imposed against the team for an underweight engine rod found in Matt Kenseth's engine following his victory at Kansas Speedway.
Kenseth and team owner Joe Gibbs saw their original 50-point penalties dropped to just 12 and the six-race suspension for crew chief Jason Ratcliff is now just a single race thanks to a decision rendered by the National Stock Car Racing Commission.
Ratcliff's $200,000 fine, however, remains in place.
But Kenseth will now receive credit for his April 21 win, meaning if he makes the Chase by finishing in the top 10 in points he will be awarded three bonus points for the victory. The win will also count towards Chase wildcard eligibility.
With the announcement Kenseth moves to 11th in the standings to fourth overall.
Also rescinded was Gibbs' No. 20 owners license, which had been revoked for six races. This was the penalty that most upset Kenseth, who felt Gibbs was being harshly punished for an infraction he had no involvement in. He had characterized the original penalties as "grossly unfair" and "borderline shameful."
His response was much different following Wednesday's announcement. "Glad to have today behind us so we can get our focus back on racing. I respect NASCAR and the appeals process, I feel like they got it right," Kenseth wrote on Twitter.
The ruling was unusual on a multitude of levels.
During the initial round of appeals, the three-member board has historically sided with NASCAR's initial judgment 70 percent of the time.
But JGR was not disputing the legality of the engine rod, instead arguing against the severity of the sanctions because it receives its engines from Toyota.
The panel agreed that because JGR had nothing to do with the building and installation of the engine, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Toyota and virtually absolved the team of any wrongdoing. Accordingly, the points penalty against Toyota was increased from five to seven.
In essence, because JGR outsourced its engines and used a third-party, the organization couldn't be held accountable if something having to do with the motor was declared illegal.
This is a break from NASCAR's longstanding policy that a team is responsible for whatever parts and pieces it uses regardless of the manufacturer.
NASCAR, obviously, did not agree with Wednesday's verdict.
"Our sport has a due process system in place that has served this sport very well for more than 65 years, and that due process resulted in this decision here today," said NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp. "While we are disappointed by today's outcome, we stand firmly behind our inspection process.
"The inspection of engines, and engine parts and pieces has always been regarded as the holy grail throughout the industry -- that along with fuel and tires. In violations such as these, we have no other reinforcement process than to penalize the team owner and team members. That's how our system works."