NASCAR panel reduces JGR penalties

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - A NASCAR appeals panel sided with Joe Gibbs Racing on Wednesday and eased some of the penalties imposed for having an illegal part in Matt Kenseth’s race-winning engine at Kansas last month.

NASCAR punished JGR after discovering during a post-race inspection that one of eight connecting rods in the engine at the April 21 race did not meet the minimum weight requirement. The part was too light by 3 grams, less than the weight of an envelope.

JGR did not dispute the part was illegal, but argued the penalties were too severe because it leases its engines from Toyota Racing Development and is not permitted to touch anything inside of them. Toyota accepted responsibility and insisted one light rod did not give Kenseth a performance advantage.

The three-member National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel agreed and dramatically reduced almost every penalty.

The points deducted from Kenseth were reduced from 50 to 12, which moves him from 11th in the standings to fourth. The panel also reinstated the three bonus points he earned for the victory for seeding in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

The panel also reduced crew chief Jason Ratcliff’s suspension from six races to one race, and eliminated the six-race suspension for owner Joe Gibbs. It let stand Ratcliff’s $200,000 fine. The only action the panel took was increasing Toyota’s penalty from a five-point fine to seven points.

“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 posted on Twitter.

Gibbs said he was done with the process and would not appeal anything further.

“Right now, we just want to get back to racing,” the team owner said.

NASCAR is not eligible to appeal anything further to chief appellate officer John Middlebrook. Spokesman Kerry Tharp said the sanctioning body was disappointed in the decision.

“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,” Tharp said. “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.”

The appeal was heard by Mark Arute, general manager of Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut, Denis McGlynn, CEO of Dover International Speedway and Jack Housby, who fielded cars in the 1970s and `80s.

Of the 151 appeals heard since NASCAR began keeping records in 1999, penalties were upheld 106 times. The panel reduced penalties 32 times, eliminated penalties 11 times and increased them twice.

A week ago, the panel unanimously upheld all penalties levied against Penske Racing for using parts confiscated by inspectors before the April 13 race at Texas. But the six-race suspensions for seven key Penske employees were reduced Tuesday to two points races and the All-Star race by Middlebrook, which team owner Roger Penske celebrated as a small victory.

Gibbs seemed far more subdued by what could only be considered a major victory.

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