RICHMOND — Matt Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff continue to argue that the penalties levied for racing with an engine connecting rod deemed 2.7 grams too light by NASCAR rules in the victory on Sunday at Kansas are unfair. NASCAR's response: Don't mess with an engine.
"Well, as everyone knows, there are a few things that are understood in the garage area that are big," said Robin Permberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, Friday at Richmond International Raceway. "When you talk about engines, (tires) and (fuel). …don't mess with those areas, and the penalties are severe.
"Some of our most severe penalties over time have surrounded engine infractions."
NASCAR hit Joe Gibbs Racing as severely as it has ever hit any team for an engine infraction. Not only was Kenseth docked 50 points, his win will not count as a bonus point for seeding purposes should he make the Chase, nor will it count toward making the Chase as a wild card.
Ratcliff was fined $200,000 and suspended six races, but will be with Kenseth for the Toyota Owners 400 at RIR on Saturday because JGR is appealing the penalties. Gibbs was docked 50 owner's points and suspended six races, during which he cannot earn owner's points.
Ratcliff spoke to the media Friday and offered a number of reasons that the penalty is "extremely harsh." He argued that Toyota Racing Development (TRD), which assembled the engine, made an unintentional "mistake," and that it did not result in a competitive advantage for Kenseth.
"These guys build a lot of engines," he said. "You think about the quantity and the level of complexity that goes into them, you're going to make a mistake now and then.
"In this situation, there was (a rod) that was 2.7 grams too light and there was one that was eight grams heavy. That's where I say it was not a competitive advantage."
Pemberton said, "We're not here to judge the performance of any of these. We are strictly here to regulate the rulebook and keep a level playing field. …and make sure everybody gets a fair chance at competing."
Kenseth made the point Thursday that JGR no longer has a Sprint Cup engine shop and that the team does not "work on or even look at any (of the TRD-built) Cup engines. They show up on an airplane, and get taken out and get bolted in the car."
Pemberton said the team is responsible, regardless.
"At this time we will not and cannot penalize vendors," he said. "When you go down that road, there are a million pieces on these cars. (So) we choose to go down the path that it's the team's responsibility for quality control and (to) check the parts and pieces that they bring and compete with at the race track."
Ratcliff acknowledged that it's a crew chief's job to know the rules and make sure the parts are correct, so he's willing to shoulder responsibility. But, like Kenseth, he is perturbed that team owner Gibbs was hit so hard with the implication of cheating.
"He's an awesome guy," Ratcliff said. "He would give you the shirt off his back, and to kick him like that, it's wrong.
"Especially with what he's done for this sport and how loyal he's been to this sport."
Gibbs said Friday that he stands behind his partnership with TRD and has no intention of moving the engine-building operation back in-house. Gibbs said he understands that some penalty is warranted for the unapproved part, but he said the team will appeal the severity of the punishment.
What appears to bother him most was the appearance he had cheated.
"For me personally in my life, in just about every decision I've ever made, I feel like intent was very important," Gibbs said. "The intent here was not to get an unfair advantage in any way. That's very important to me.
"Since we've started out this year there's been 10 TRD motors torn down. Eight of them have been Joe Gibbs Racing motors and nothing has been found to be illegal."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times