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Joe Gibbs' three Cup teams change engines after NASCAR inspectors raise questions and confiscate parts

  When NASCAR inspectors Friday morning questioned the engines of Joe Gibbs' three teams, all the crew decided to change motors before opening practice for Sunday's Michigan 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   All three Joe Gibbs teams had to change engines Friday morning before opening round of practice for Sunday's Michigan 400, and it is not clear whether or not any penalties might be forthcoming from NASCAR over the issue, which is related to the oil pans.
   The modified oil pans -- and the paragraph in the rulebook is not very specific -- were taken by NASCAR officials and put on display for rivals to examine. The Gibbs oil pans were heavier than typical oil pans, rival engine men said; however the rulebook apparently doesn't prescribe any weight rules, just that steel be used and the parts be "acceptable to NASCAR," which might be a lessor requirement than "submitted for approval," such as intake manifolds, for example.

   While some rivals questioned whether the oil pans were made from a different material than NASCAR allows – presumably for some weight advantage – Greg Zipadelli, crew chief for Joey Logano, says the issue was more about the location/or size of the oil pan, in a design to increase horsepower.
   "There was a little difference of opinion on this, so we all (three teams) elected to change engines," Zipadelli said. "We didn't have to change it before practice. But we all decided the best thing to do was to change and go back to what we had.
   "It's not really that big a deal. It's a big deal because it's just such a pain to pull a motor out and change a part we need to change….
   "It's not a weight thing; it's not like it's a heavy part (for lower center of gravity). It's about a little bit of horsepower and getting it to fit into our car, and keep the motor as low in the car as we can.
   "Just trying to take advantage of every little area we can."


Joey Logano (L) and crew chief Greg Zipadelli (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Are the Gibbs men worried about any looming NASCAR penalties over the issue?
   "I don't know if there is a penalty or not," Zipadelli said. "They'll have to decide those things, as to where they feel it crosses the line.
   "Obviously it crossed the line enough that they didn't like the look of it."
   NASCAR issued a brief statement, saying the oil pans "had not been submitted for prior approval," confirmed ordering the teams to change them. The sanctioning body added that it will review the situation "next week" before deciding if any penalties would be assessed.
   Ford's Jack Roush was just one of the men here keeping a close eye on the situation.
   "They've got to either change engines or oil pans, because they apparently found themselves outside the rules as far as some component on the car is concerned," Roush said. "They've got a major tear-up; it's a big problem for them."
   Would Roush anticipate a NASCAR penalty over the issue?
   "My feeling is if it was something found in inspection and they changed it before they went on the race track, there would probably be no need for a penalty," Roush said.
   "But certainly they'll be under a watchful eye to make sure they don't push too far in that area again.
   "But now I've got to go find out what's really going on there, because my guys may be working in the same area too…because that's a gray area of the rule book."
   While rivals here appeared interested in the novel oil pans, there seemed to be no hue and cry over the issue, except among fans trying to figure out just what is going on. "I'm not sure why they're making a big issue about it," one top competition director, an engineer, said, pointing out how nebulous the rulebook itself was over the piece.
   However the Friday Gibbs issue comes just days after NASCAR, in post-race inspection at Pocono, said the left-front quarterpanel of Kyle Busch's third-place finishing car was 1/16th out of tolerance, too low. Two rival crewmen, though, insisted they watched the post-race inspection process and saw Busch's car well more than 1/16th of an inch off the green-red/go-no-go gauge. They said it appeared more than an inch off.
   NASCAR penalized Busch six points, the equivalent of six finishing positions, and fined crew chief Dave Rogers $25,000. That penalty was generally considered rather light.
   Roush, though conceding he wasn't precisely sure what the issues were with Busch's Pocono car, pointed out "the under-side of a car is fertile territory for development. So NASCAR is continually looking at the various things people would do to make the under of the car slicker, which would both reduce drag and create more downforce.
   "So there is no doubt in my mind that they have found something that was beneficial to the car that NASCAR decided was outside the bounds of the rules. And they sat on them for it."
   While some teams in this sport, and some crew chiefs, are renowned for pushing the limits, Gibbs' teams are under rather strict orders not to push the lines.

    Rival team owner Jack Roush (L, here with Ricky Stenhouse) says the underside of these race cars is an area ripe for development, because the NASCAR rule book is gray in that area (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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