Kaylin Nicola, atop Matt Kenseth's shoulders, is probably happy with Wednesday's decisions (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
For the second straight day, a stock car racing appeals panel rejected a heavy NASCAR penalty on a Sprint Cup team. This time a three-man NASCAR committee overturned hefty penalties on the Joe Gibbs-Matt Kenseth-Jason Ratcliff team for an engine violation discovered after Kenseth's Kansas 400 victory April 21st.
The Wednesday afternoon decision was sweeping.
Ratcliff, Kenseth's crew chief, had a six-race suspension slashed to just one race.
Gibbs, as owner, and Kenseth, as driver, had 50-point penalties cut to just 12 points. (A point is approximately equivalent to one finishing position.)
The rest of Gibbs' penalties were rescinded; the rest of Kenseth's penalties were rescinded.
That, essentially, puts Kenseth back in the championship race. He has had one of the strongest cars at most races this season, his first with Gibbs and Toyota after 14 years with Jack Roush and Ford.
The engine in question was discovered to have a piston connecting rod slightly lighter than rules allowed. That engine, as are all Toyota engines, was provided by Toyota's Los Angeles-based TRD operation, and teams are not allowed to inspect or alter anything in those engines.
While NASCAR's penalties on the engine violation may be relatively clear-cut by the book, and engine violations have long been hit hard by NASCAR, that part of the rule book clearly may need to be rewritten.
The corporate aspect of engine design is relatively new, and NASCAR rules do not currently accommodate that. The only penalty that could be assessed Toyota in this issue is a loss of manufacturers' championship points; NASCAR officials originally penalized Toyota five points, a number that appeared to have no particular reason. The appeals panel increased that to seven points
The panel did uphold the $200,000 fine on Ratcliff.
The three NASCAR-appointed men on the appeals panel: Dover president Denis McGlynn, industry executive Jack Housby, and promoter Mark Arute.