The penalties against Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 should absolutely be rescinded—or at least substantially reduced.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.
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 owners 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 owners 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.