Joe Gibbs Racing has emerged largely victorious from Wednesday's appeal hearing against the harsh penalties imposed on the team over an engine component irregularity in its race-winning #20 car at Kansas last month.
In a post-race technical stripdown, NASCAR found that the Toyota unit in Matt Kenseth's car contained one connecting rod among a set of eight that was three grams under the required minimum legal weight. Kenseth was penalised 50 Sprint Cup championship points and the #20 also lost 50 points in the owners' championship together with a six-race suspension from scoring any further points.
Kenseth's crew chief Jason Ratcliff was handed a suspension for six NASCAR Sprint Cup races as well as from the Sprint All-Star exhibition event, and was also served a $200,000 fine.
But on Wednesday, a three-person panel selected from the 49 members of the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel heard JGR's appeal at NASCAR's Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina. Afterwards, Stafford Motor Speedway chief operating officer Mark Arute, Dover Motorsports CEO Denis McGlynn and former team owner Jack Housby issued a ruling that broadly agreed with JGR that NASCAR's penalties had been disproportionate to the original offence.
As a result, Kenseth's penalty deduction has been lowered from 50 to 12 points, moving him back up from 11th to fourth in the standings. The owners' points penalty has been similarly revised, and the suspension of Joe Gibbs' owner licence for the #20 has been overturned entirely meaning that the car will now continue to pick up owner points for the team as normal.
Ratcliff's suspension has been reduced from six Cup races to just one, which will be served at this weekend's Darlington race, and he will now only be on probation until after Pocono on June 9 rather than until the end of the season. However his $200,000 fine has been upheld, the only major sanction to stand unchanged.
JGR had never disputed the violation of the rules, but said that the penalties that NASCAR had handed down to the team were too severe given that there was no competitive advantage and the engine was a sealed plug-and-play item delivered to them from Toyota Racing Development's California 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. “Totally our fault," admitted TRD President Lee White in April. "We've never, ever, never, not once, discussed going under the minimum weight on con rods. There is no reason to. This is an accidental occurrence."
Toyota will still lose points in the manufacturer championship, with the appeal actually increasing the original five point sanction to seven. White has also not ruled out pitching in to pay some or all of Ratcliff's $200,000 fine, which remains in place. "I'm not going to say 'No' because under the circumstances it's pretty hard to argue that wouldn't be the right thing to do," White had agreed when previously asked, although he did not commit himself either way ahead of the appeal hearing.