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Big penalties for Kenseth as engine fails inspection

24 April 2013

Just a few days ago, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth was celebrating his second win since joining the team at the start of of the 2013 season after finding victory lane in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

But it's a different story mid-week, with news that Kenseth has been hit by big penalties, with NASCAR announcing on Wednesday that the driver would lose a massive 50 championship points which will drop him from eighth place in the Cup standings to 14th after a component of the car's Toyota race engine was found to be underweight.

As part of the penalty ruling, the #20 JGR car also loses the same number of owner points, and furthermore will not be allowed to earn owner points for the next six races as Joe Gibbs' owner's license for the vehicle has been suspended for the interim period.

Although Kenseth remains the nominal winner of Sunday's race, it won't count either toward a most-wins wildcard (should he fail to make the Chase by finishing the regular season in 26th place) nor would he gain the usual 3 point bonus for the Kansas victory that drivers get per win to start the play-offs with if he were to qualify.

Also hard hit is the crew chief of the #20, Jason Ratcliff, who has been served with a $200,000 fine and suspended from competition for the next six Sprint Cup events, which also includes the non-championship Sprint Cup All-Star race at Charlotte next month. Once he resumes his post he will be on NASCAR probation through to the end of 2013.

The team has indicated that it plans to exercise its right of appeal over the ruling and the size of the penalties being imposed.

"It is our understanding that one of the eight connecting rods on the engine was ruled too light," the team said in a brief statement after the NASCAR announcement. "We are working with our partners at [Toyota] on this issue. In the meantime we will plan to appeal the penalty."

The penalties came after the #20 was among the cars taken away by NASCAR at the end of the Kansas event for a more comprehensive stripdown at NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina than is possible in the usual pre- and post-race scrutineering checks at the race venue. While the selection of cars to take away is usually fairly random, the winning car is invariably among them.

The specific rule cited by NASCAR in their penalty ruling is Section 20-5.5.3E of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup rulebook, which states that “Only solid magnetic steel connecting rods with a minimum weight of 525 grams will be permitted," with the weight taken as including the connecting road cap and cap fasteners, but without the bearing inserts.

In the case of this week's post-Kansas testing it was found that one of the connecting rods in Kenseth's engine was too light. While unlikely to provide a performance advantage and is probably more a case of quality control, the errant part is still a breach of the NASCAR rules that comes with heavy sanctions.

The engine build is the responsibility of Toyota Racing Development at their Costa Mesa facility in California, and TRD quickly issued a statement accepting the ruling, blaming the breach on poor oversight of a vendor-supplied part and stressing that the race team was not involved. Nonetheless, it's the team and the driver that get handed any penalties incurred by their suppliers - although NASCAR has also directly docked Toyota five points in the manufacturer championship

NASCAR has historically been particularly punitive toward engine irregularities: in 2009, the same $200k penalty was levied on the crew chief of the #46 Carl Long Racing car for one engine that was found to be 0.17 cubic inches over the allowed size. When the fine was not paid and the team itself folded, the sanction went onto driver Carl Long himself, who still to this day has not been able to pay what has been one of NASCAR's heaviest-ever financial penalties and who no longer races in the Cup Series as a result.

Meanwhile Penske Racing is appealing big penalties of their own, received as a result of using unapproved rear suspension parts at the previous race in Texas. The team's appeal over the 25 point deductions for Brad Keselowsi and Joey Logano and the six-race suspensions of both crew chiefs involved will be heard by a three-man panel on May 1.

Sauter penalised for modified fuel cell

NASCAR also announced that the #98 ThorSport entry driven by Johnny Sauter in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Kansas had been penalised following a failed pre-race inspection at the start of the event.

The car was found to be sporting an illegally modified fuel cell, a breach of sections 12-1, 12-4K and 20B-16 of the 2013 rule book. The latter violation refers to the rule that prohibits unapproved modification of fuel cell safety foam.

Sauter will be docked 25 points, which means he will surrender the lead of the championship to Kansas race winner Matt Crafton. Sauter will now go into a tie for second place with Jeb Burton. The team also loses car owner points, and crew chief Joe Shear will have a four-race suspension and a $10,000 fine as well as being placed on probation until the end of the year.


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