Matt Kenseth didn't hold back when asked what he felt about the penalties that NASCAR imposed on his Joe Gibbs Racing team mid-week, after a single one of eight connecting rods in the #20 car's Toyota engine was found to be too light.
“The penalties are grossly unfair,” Kenseth said on Thursday during a scheduled media availability at Richmond International Raceway ahead of this weekend's Sprint Cup race. “It's borderline shameful."
Kenseth has lost 50 points in the Sprint Cup championship, and the #20 car has also been stripped of the same amount of owner points. Joe Gibbs himself has been told his owner licence for the #20 has been suspended for the next six Cup events meaning it will earn no more points in the interim, while the crew chief Jason Ratcliff has been handed a six-race suspension and a $200,000 fine despite having no direct control or responsibility for, as the engine is supplied ready-assembled by Toyota Racing Development.
"All the engine work is done in Costa Mesa, California,” Kenseth explained. “JGR does have a Nationwide engine shop but they do not work on or even look at any Cup engines ... They show up on a truck or an airplane, get taken out and get bolted in the car.
"JGR had no control over that. To crush Joe Gibbs like that and say they can't win an owners championship with the #20 this year, I just can't wrap my arms around that," he said. "It just blows me away. The same with Jason Ratcliff. I don't feel bad for myself at all. But for Jason and Joe, I couldn't feel any worse.
"You're going to have people that know absolutely nothing about the whole situation and call you 'cheaters," he fumed. "There's no more reputable, honest, hard-working guys with good reputations more so than them two. I feel really bad for them."
"We raise our hand and say, 'I'm responsible for this race car from the time we get to the racetrack to the time we get through post-race inspection,'" Ratcliff himself told Sirius/XM Radio
on Wednesday. "[But] the reality of it is ... there's no way one individual could put his finger on every part and piece."
However, Ratcliff was convinced that given Kenseth's form so far since the driver joined JGR at the start of 2013, the heavy penalties did not mean the end of their championship hopes: "Fifty points is something I feel strongly we can overcome," he said. "I think we'll continue to go out each week and be successful. In a few weeks, it'll be a thing of the past and be right back where we belong."
"I think if anybody can come back from it and get us in a spot to have a shot at winning a championship, it's my group," agreed Kenseth. "Honestly, I feel like I have the strongest race team in the garage."