The Frontstretch: Side By Side: Should The No. 20 Penalty Be Reduced? by Summer Bedgood and Mark Howell -- Wednesday May 8, 2013

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Side By Side: Should The No. 20 Penalty Be Reduced?

Summer Bedgood and Mark Howell · Wednesday May 8, 2013


Welcome back to Side By Side. There are always two sides to every story, and we’re going to bring them both, right here, every week. Two of our staff writers will face off on an important racing question … feel free to tell us what you think in the weekly poll and also in the comments section below!

This Week’s Question: Should the appeals board reduce the penalties levied against Matt Kenseth and the No. 20 team for an illegal engine found after Kansas?

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Rules Are Rules

There’s no reason why NASCAR should lessen the penalties leveled against Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing following their victory at Kansas last month. The No. 20 Husky Tools Toyota dominated the STP 400, leading 163 of the 267 laps (that’s 61% of the event) before being caught during post-race inspection with an illegal engine. Even though the infraction seemed minor—a connecting rod that was about three grams lighter than allowed by the NASCAR rulebook—penalties assessed to Kenseth and Gibbs were major.

Once the smoke cleared at NASCAR headquarters, Gibbs, Kenseth, crew chief Jason Ratcliff, and the No. 20 team were fined $200,000 dollars, docked fifty valuable championship points (which meant the 48-points earned at Kansas became a two-point deficit), robbed of a win that could be used for a “wild card” Chase berth, and penalized five manufacturer points. Toss in an assortment of six-race punishments and suspensions for Gibbs (the No. 20 cannot accumulate owner points for six events) and Ratcliff, and year-long probations for all involved, and this was perhaps the harshest penalty ever assessed by NASCAR in the history of the sport.

Should Matt Kenseth and Co. pay a heavy price after an illegal engine at Kansas…

That’s exactly why NASCAR should keep these penalties right where they are. By decreasing the severity of the punishment, the appeals board would be decreasing the sanctioning body’s level of overall authority. File this notion under the heading “Give an inch, take a mile”.

As Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s Vice-President of Competition said following the Kansas penalties: “It’s not a gray area”.

Did the folks at Toyota who assembled the motor know about the underweight connecting rod? It’s likely they didn’t, but maybe they did. Did Joe Gibbs smile as Kenseth took the checkered flag after his dominating drive that April afternoon? Sure he did, but was it because he knew that the No. 20 Toyota got away with an illegal bit of horsepower? My guess is Gibbs smiled because of the victory, not because of one dodgy rod churning around under his car’s hood.

But what if Toyota, Gibbs, Ratcliff, and Kenseth knew they were using an illegal engine? Following the Kansas debacle, Toyota pulled three motors from their inventory that were slated to power Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Camry. Did Toyota pull the engines just to play it safe, or was it because of NASCAR’s seemingly Draconian penalties?

NASCAR’s “zero-tolerance” approach to competition this year has changed the racing landscape. Fans, teams, and pundits alike have argued against NASCAR’s treatment of outspoken drivers like Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and (maybe?) Ryan Newman, but it’s more difficult to argue against a set of scales. The rod weighed what the rod weighed, and that weight failed to meet the specifications as clearly published in the NASCAR rulebook for Sprint Cup engines. If the rule was broken, the penalty should stand.

Sure the penalty leveled against Gibbs and Company is harsh, but what message gets sent if it’s overturned or reduced on appeal? One lesson I’ve learned from a lifetime (so far) in and around motorsports is this: racers are cheaters.

Richard Petty once said, “It’s only cheating if you get caught”. Darrell Waltrip wrote in his autobiography about breaking ten rules so that if inspectors caught five violations, you still had another five advantages to help your cause. Engine specs are concrete numbers—they’re objective in that the specifications are there to be met. Don’t meet the spec? You’re not following the rules. Not following the rules? You’re looking for a competitive advantage, no matter how slight.

As my grandmother used to say, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”— even if the rod was 2.5 grams too light and the children have multiple NASCAR titles to their credit….

Summer Bedgood, Assistant Editor: NASCAR Was Over the Top

The penalties against Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 should absolutely be rescinded—or at least substantially reduced. While I understand that NASCAR doesn’t have a “gray area” when it comes to rules regarding the connecting rods, these penalties are simply too harsh.

First of all, no educated, experienced engineer, crew chief, etc. in the garage area says that there would have been an advantage with just one connecting rod lighter than the others. Whether retired or otherwise, several accomplished individuals in the sport have gone on the public record saying that there was basically zero advantage to be gained by them doing that.

The other question at stake here is intent. If there was no advantage to be gained in their methods, then was it really intentional? Based upon reports from TRD and speculation from other teams, this could have been a simple mistake made long before it ever reached the shop floor at Joe Gibbs Racing.

…or should the penalty be reduced based on mitigating factors?

This leads us to the penalties and I’ll tackle them one by one.

First off was the 50 driver point penalty. Considering the fact that there was little room for intent or advantage, this seems too steep. Perhaps a six point penalty like Martin Truex, Jr. received earlier this year would have been more in line with what was deserved. Basically, NASCAR should have said, “We don’t like what you did but there was no intent to cheat so we’ll go easy.”

Next, was the loss of the three Chase bonus points Kenseth would have received for his win at Kansas. They also took the pole he earned a away as eligibility in the 2014 Sprint Unlimited. Again, there is no proof that this penalty actually helped Kenseth get the pole or win. So why would they take either of these awards away? If it were an issue of horsepower, this would be a different story. Yet when esteemed crew chiefs in NASCAR are saying that it did virtually nothing for them, they shouldn’t lose crucial bonus points and eligibility to run a race that they deserve to run.

Crew chief Jason Ratcliff was also fined $200,000 and suspended for the next six races. I think, to be fair, Ratcliff should receive the same suspension that Penske Racing’s crew members did after John Middlebrook reduced the penalties. As far as the fine, that one is harder to say, but maybe lower it to the $100,000 – $150,000 range.

Finally, car owner Joe Gibbs was docked 50 owner points and had his owner’s license suspended for six races. Neither of these are fair. Again, I think six points would suffice and they need to be allowed to earn points. For an incident that was more than likely an accident, NASCAR really doesn’t need to send this team a message beyond that. It makes more sense to give them a small slap on the wrist and move on.

NASCAR clearly overreacted on this one. They can show JGR and the garage area that they are serious about their rules without attempting to destroy one team’s season.

The right move here would be to drastically reduce the penalties while still upholding some minor points penalties. However, the rare, over the top penalties such as suspending the owner’s license and removing bonus points needs to rescinded. After all, when you look at what JGR gained from the infraction, it wasn’t worth the price they actually had to pay.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


©2000 - 2008 Summer Bedgood and Mark Howell and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

05/08/2013 07:56 AM

I agree with reversing the suspensions, and the driver/owner points penalties. As for the monetary fine, well, that should be levied against Toyota for sure, but how do you fine the manufacturer directly? Toyota admitted that it was their fault, in that they knew that the connecting rods were out of spec. Although nothing has been said if there was a manufacturer’s points penalty, and if there is that one should definitely stay.

Carl D.
05/08/2013 08:00 AM

Mark: “By decreasing the severity of the punishment, the appeals board would be decreasing the sanctioning body’s level of overall authority.”

Well, if “perhaps the harshest penalty ever assessed by NASCAR in the history of the sport” was handed down for a connecting rod that weighed 2.5 grams less than it should have, in a motor built by TRD, and which gave the team no competitve advantage, then maybe the sanctioning body needs to be severely re-calibrated. Or replaced.

Mark: “But what if Toyota, Gibbs, Ratcliff, and Kenseth knew they were using an illegal engine?”

Given that the connecting rod gave the car no measurable advantage, do really think that’s the case, Mark? Do you actually think they’d risk being penalized for something that gave them no competitive advantage? I think not.

Sorry, Mark, but Summer clearly took you to the cleaners this week.

05/08/2013 08:13 AM

Ask Carl long if they should reduce penalties for an unintentional infraction that gives no performance advantage.

05/08/2013 08:37 AM

For the weight of about two cotton balls Nascar will most likely prevent one of the top teams from winning the championship.

That’s a lot of hard work and millions of dollars gone.

REALLY? Yes, rules are rules but….is this the RIGHT way to run things?

05/08/2013 08:58 AM

Just read that Newman will NOT be penalized for his comments.

WOW !!!!!

If I’m Denny I’m asking for my penalty money back!

And we wonder why folks don’t trust Nascar and question this call on the Gibbs team or John Middlebrooks call regarding the 48 last year?

05/08/2013 10:59 AM

Seems as if Gibbs is being given a pass by many people who prefer to blame Toyota.
Remember it was Gibbs decision to use TRD rather than his in house program. And JGR has not exactly squeaky clean in the past.
Rule are rules and should be enforced regardless of the perpetrators public image.

05/08/2013 11:10 AM

Hey Mark. Keep drinking the Kool-Aid. Good job Summer.

05/08/2013 11:24 AM

So Penske gets their penalties reduced and Gibbs doesn’t? Denny gets fined and Newman doesn’t? Sounds like NASCAR has a bug up their a** about JGR.

05/08/2013 01:48 PM

JGR has Hamlin get fined over his comments (which were mild), Kenseth gets his chase/championship hopes dashed by a rod weighing less than 3 grams under the weight. Still waiting on the verdict from Middlebrook.

Penske gets his penalties reduced, but not ALL of it (like the 48 did). They still have to overcome the points penalty. Gee, thanks Middlebrook for the table scraps.

Newman tosses nascar and talladega under the bus completely and doesn’t get penalized. Jr. did the same last year.

One team is Toyota, one team is Ford, and the other is Chevy/Hendrick.

Yeah, seems fair to me.

Wayne T. Morgan
05/08/2013 01:53 PM

An advantage? Yes by all means. No advantage? No as it’s worth nothing. Carl Long? That was stupid on NA$CARS part. Running your mouth? It only is used when NA$CAR feels threatened. Let ‘em talk as we fans see what we see anyway.

05/08/2013 02:27 PM

Mark is a fool !!Good job Summer .

Sherri T
05/08/2013 02:38 PM

I can see both sides.

Sittin’ on the fence here.

Carl D.
05/08/2013 04:15 PM

I see that the appeals panel drastically reduced the #20 team today. Robin Pemberton must feel like a fool.

Carl D.
05/08/2013 04:19 PM

I see that the appeals panel drastically reduced the #20 team penalties today.

Carl D. must look like a fool who doesn’t proofread.

05/08/2013 04:37 PM

HOORAY. Well, a little bit. Hey, we’ll take what we can get.

Happy for the #20. Should have had the whole thing thrown out but still….

Hope he wins the championship now.

This whole thing with Penske and Gibbs getting some relief seems like a PR move on Nascar’s part.

Still blown away with Newman not getting fined though.

05/08/2013 07:50 PM

Toyota knew that the engine was illegal? And shipped it anyway? Do you think it would have been used if it said “This engine is illegal” on the crate?

How accurate was the measurement by the engine manufacturer? How accurate was the NA$CAR measurement?

05/08/2013 10:54 PM

Nothing suprising here. Another Nascar blunder. Abosultey no reason to reduce the penalties. All they’ve done is give Chad Knaus more gray area to work. Win more races which Johnson is certainly capable of doing to offset the “oh sorry about that, we didn’t know we goofed” attitude. Yeah okay, it was TRD’s fault but where is the responsibility on the CC and team for making sure everything is correct. By reducing the penalties, you’ve just opened the door for anyone else to do the same thing. Getting harder and harder to follow this port.

05/10/2013 01:23 AM

We still don’t need THE CHASE.

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