Partial appeal success for Penske
8 May 2013
Penske Racing has succeeded in having the suspensions of a swathe of team members reduced from the original six Cup races to just two, as a result of their final appeal over sanctions imposed on the teams over unapproved rear suspension parts being used on their cars at Texas last month.
However, drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano still lose 25 points each in both the drivers' and owners' championships. The $100,000 fine on both Keselowski's crew chief Paul Wolfe and his counterpart on Logano's team Todd Gordon also stands.
But for the team it was the extended suspensions of both crew chiefs as well as car chiefs Jerry Kelley and Raymond Fox and team engineers Brian Wilson and Samuel Stanley, together with Penske's competition director Travis Geisler, that threatened to do far more serious long-term damage to the championship hopes of the #2 and #22 teams.
Originally all seven men were due to miss six Cup races together with the non-championship Sprint All-Star exhibition event, which would have left Penske scrambling for suitably experienced senior personnel to step into the vital roles.
"I don't think it's something we worry about," said team owner Roger Penske when asked if he was disappointed that the fines and points deductions remained unchanged. "From my perspective overall, the key thing is we have our people back at the track ... That's most important. If we're going to want to be a leader and win the championship again, we have plenty of time to do that."
Penske's original appeal against the penalties before a three-man panel last week failed to change NASCAR's original sanctions, but in their final appeal to chief appellate officer John Middlebrook on Tuesday the team succeeded in getting the suspensions down to just two Cup races in addition to the All-Star race.
That means the seven team members in question will be suspended for the next three upcoming race weekends at Darlington Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. They will return for the race weekend at Dover International Speedway. They remain on NASCAR probation until December 31.
“After looking at all the facts and data and interpretations from the rule book, I have decided to uphold the original fines and points penalties,” said Middlebrook. “However, I have decided to reduce the suspensions of the seven team members involved from six points races and the all-star race to two points races and the all-star race.”
He did not do into his reasons for reducing the term of suspensions on the seven team members.
Roger Penske said that he was happy and relieved at the outcome of the appeals process, calling the outcome "fair and equitable" and hinting that if this had been the original ruling or the decision after the first appeal hearing then he would have been happy to let the matter drop.
"He felt the fines and penalties were overreaching and made the decision to reduce it," said Penske of Middlebrook's decision. "It was a good outcome for everyone. We're going to move on."
It still leaves the team having to find replacement personnel for the next two Cup races, although the appeals process did at least delay the suspensions and allow Penske to make contingency plans.
"We have a game plan," Penske insisted. "Hopefully you'll see people you know at the racetrack. We have a deep bench."
Penske added that the original rules violation had been because the team were seeking to innovate in an area of the rules left somewhat undefined and untested by recent revisions of the regulations that sought to address many how teams used rear-end "skew" last season to achieve extra speed. A new regulation for 2013 states that rear suspension mounts "must not allow movement or realignment beyond normal rotation or suspension travel."
"As we interpreted the rules, these are undefined areas," said Penske, dismissing the suggestion that there had been any confusion on the regulations on the part of the team. "Obviously with all the innovation, the NASCAR rulebook is thicker this year than last year, because we have great guys in the garage are that are innovating, and that's the business we're in."
"This is an innovative sport," he said. "I can tell you the other 42 cars are innovating every day. We'll continue to look at areas we can work in if we feel they are within the rulebook. Obviously, I don't want to get to the edge as NASCAR felt we were in this particular situation, but we've got to be competitive in order to win. I think there are very creative guys that we compete against every Sunday in NASCAR."
Responding on behalf of the organisers, NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said "We made it pretty clear with the rear end housing last year, the science project had gone far enough," adding: "That's something we felt the enforcement behind the penalty was warranted."
Asked why he felt the outcome this weekend had been more favourable for his team than the original appeal, Roger Penske pointed out it was the first time that both sides had sat down to present at the same time rather than separately, and been able to discuss the situation in more depth.
"The fact that our facts could be delineated specifically in detail, I think made a big difference with me," he said. "I think the process is good. You don't go to the Supreme Court on the first day. I'm happy with the outcome.
"The most important thing is this is over. This has been two or three weeks of constant questions. There are lots of emotions from the team members and the media," Penske added. "I just want to move on. I've learned a lot in the process and am sure the team has."
Joe Gibbs Penalty appeal to be heard Wednesday
One penalty hearing down, another still to go: Joe Gibbs Racing might be taking heart at Penske's success in having sanctions tempered, as it goes into an appeal hearing of its own on Wednesday at NASCAR's Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina.
JGR was found to have an underweight component in the engine of Matt Kenseth's race-winning #20 at Kansas Speedway in April, and as a result NASCAR imposed a 50 points penalty for Matt Kenseth, a six-race suspension and $200,000 fine for crew chief Jason Ratcliff and a six-race suspension of Joe Gibb's owner license for the car meaning it can't score any owner points during that time.
JGR does not dispute that a single connecting rod in the engine was underweight by three grams - about the weight of three paperclips - but says that the penalties are too severe especially as the engine is in effect a sealed 'plug-and-play' unit delivered to the team by engine suppliers Toyota Racing Development from their west coast assembly plant. TRD has already accepted the blame for the rules violation and said it was down to a failure to adequately quality check components supplied to them by a third party vendor.
Today's appeal takes place before a three-person panel selected from the 49 members of the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel. Presentations are made separately to the panel by the team and by NASCAR with a judgement handed down at the end of the day. The hearing starts at 9pm EST (2pm BST) and typically takes five to eight hours depending on the complexity of the issues and the evidence being considered.
As Penske did before them, JGR can take the matter to NASCAR's chief appellate officer if the initial appeal is unsuccessful. Middlebrook, a former General Motors executive, serves for a nominal $1 a year and his decision is final and not subject to further appeal.