Matt Kenseth has lost his appeals against a two-race suspension, meaning that he will now definitely have to sit out this weekend's event at Texas Motor Speedway as well as next week's race at Phoenix International Raceway.
"Obviously, I'm more than a little disappointed with the decision and the penalties to start with," Kenseth said after the verdict was handed down. "I feel like I was unfairly made the example instead of knowing where the line is, what the penalties are."
Kenseth was handed the penalty on Tuesday after an incident that took place late in Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway, which saw the Joe Gibbs Racing driver take out Penske's Joey Logano apparently as retribution for a clash between the pair the previous month in Kansas that had contributed to Kenseth losing his place in this year's Chase championship play-offs.
Kenseth had also been angered by the way that Penske tactics between Logano and his team mate Brad Keselowski at the head of the field had contributed to another accident on Sunday that wrecked Kenseth's chances of a good finish again. Kenseth was able to stay out on track in a badly damaged car just long enough to target Logano and pile-drive him into the wall in turn 1.
NASCAR explained that the reason for the unprecedented two-race ban was because of the dangerous nature of Kenseth's retaliation, and because it involved someone no longer in the title hunt taking out one of the remaining eight contenders.
"I'm the first driver in the 65-year history of NASCAR to get suspended for an incident that happened in the Sprint Cup Series race," Kenseth pointed out.
"Our reason for appealing is we felt like this penalty was kind of unprecedented and it was inconsistent with a number of other on-track incidents," said team owner Joe Gibbs. "One of those is exactly like this one, and yet this penalty against Matt is an unprecedented one.
"That guy right there has spent 20 years in this sport. He had one other minor infraction, I think it was a $5,000 fine," Gibbs continued. "He has spent 20 years of his life racing in this sport and he's been great for NASCAR."
Kenseth exercised his two-stage round of appeal against the suspension, which began with a hearing before a three-person panel of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel on Thursday morning at the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina.
Evidence from both NASCAR and JGR was heard in turn by Ken Clapp, NASCAR's vice president of marketing development until his retirement in 1999; Bill Mullis, a former driver and the owner of Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia.; and Dale Pinilis, longtime operator of historic Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Once the Panel decided that it was right to penalise Kenseth and upheld the two-race suspension and six-month probation, the expedited appeals process moved to the final stage in which both put their case in a joint session with National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss during the afternoon.
After listening to the arguments from both sides, Moss confirmed the two-race penalty although he did reduce Kenseth's probation period from six months until the end of 2015. The 2003 Cup champion will be able to return to competition in time for the season finale on November 22.
"I'm extremely disappointed but we'll get through this," said Kenseth. "Look forward to going to Homestead ... Hopefully going there and getting a win before the year is out.
"I'm not going to change who I am. I'm not going to change what I stand for. I'm not going to change how I race. I've been in this business for a long time. I feel like I've had a pretty good career to this point, and I feel like I'm going to continue to have the respect on the race track that I feel like I deserve."
"I appreciate getting the chance to go through this process," said a disappointed Joe Gibbs. "I think we've done all we can do, and we're going to go back to racing."
JGR's development driver and current NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Erik Jones will now sit in for Kenseth at Texas in the #20. Jones made his official Sprint Cup début for the team in May at Kansas subbing for the injured Kyle Busch in the #18 car, although he'd already taken over the wheel of the #11 mid-race at Bristol Motor Speedway the previous month when Denny Hamlin suffered neck spasms shortly after the start of the race.
Hauler problems for two teams en route to Texas
The long trip to Texas Motor Speedway for this weekend's AAA Texas 500 Sprint Cup and O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge Xfinity Series events has seen issues for two team haulers.
First, the Richard Petty Motorsport hauler was involved in a road accident on Wednesday morning in Louisiana. The hauler was carrying equipment for the Xfinity Series #43 car of driver Dakoda Armstrong. It was unclear from the release whether anyone else had been involved in the accident. The hauler itself sustained some damage and the team dispatched another tractor to pick it up and continue to Texas in time for this weekend's race.
"All of our employees, but especially our transport drivers, value the safety of all motorists on the road," said Brian Moffitt, RPM's chief executive officer.
There were also problems for the HScott Motorsports trailer, which caught fire while on its way to Texas on Thursday morning. Michael Dennis Smith, who was driving the trailer on Interstate 20 in East Texas, told a local news station that neither he nor his passenger suffered any injuries during the incident.
Smith had been hauling two NASCAR Sprint Cup cars for Michael Annett in preparation for the racing weekend at Texas. The team took to twitter to reassure fans that the incident would not affect the team's ability to take part in this weekend's race.