Matt Kenseth: back in the title hunt (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Have NASCAR officials been chastened by the two major penalty reversals, on appeal, and Ryan Newman's caustic criticism of their decision to restart Sunday's Talladega 500 in near-darkness?
At least the sanctioning body had the smarts not to penalize Newman for his sharp criticism of yet another flying, flipping crash.
It has not been lost on some fans that NASCAR was so quick to react to the 2.5-gram light piston connecting rods in Matt Kenseth's engines and yet has said nothing so far about Kurt Busch's car getting airborne Sunday at Talladega.
By the way, has there been any announcement about the results of the probe of February's Nationwide crash at Daytona?
Or any further word on just what may have gone wrong with the various in-car safety systems in Michael Annett's Daytona car. He suffered a broken sternum, a rare injury these days, and is still sidelined.
And now Matt Kenseth is now all but out of the NASCAR doghouse and back in the title hunt, and as fast as he's been this spring, Kenseth is a darned good bet to earn his third win of the season in Saturday night's Southern 500.
If relief crew chief Wally Brown can make the calls. Brown worked with Kenseth when both were at Jack Roush's
"Wally knows what he's doing, so I think it will be okay. Jason is at the shop, and I know he's got the computer hooked up, and he'll look at our stuff after practice and go through all of our changes and comments. I will talk to him tonight. So I think it will be alright."
Kurt Busch, the man on his top, atop Newman's car at Sunday's finish, rebounded here to win the pole Friday evening for Saturday night's Southern 500. And Busch did it in record time, 181.918 mph.
Kurt Busch: and another track record this spring. These new 2013s are fast....200mph-plus into the corner (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
With the appeals rulings, Kenseth's has bumped back up to fourth in the standings, from 11th. He was 104 points down to leader Jimmie Johnson; now he is 66 points downs.
"The main point for us to take away is to make sure we've got it all worked out where you don't have something like that ever happen again," Kenseth said here Friday.
"Obviously I'm happy it got reduced; the penalties were pretty crushing before they got them reduced.
"So I really applaud NASCAR for having the appeals process... to have some people look at it after the dust settles a bit.
"I don't know about vindicated," Kenseth says. "I still feel bad we were in that spot to start with, to even have a penalty...to put NASCAR in that position to have to react.
"I think these (new) penalties are way more in line."
Did NASCAR's appeals men this week try to send a message to race track officials? Sure looks that way.
"I don't know if it's just a coincidence you had two things going on at once that were both fairly major.... but yet they were very different in nature," Kenseth said diplomatically.
"There was the (Penske) car stuff and joint engineering... a lot different than what we had happen."
And then again, not really. 'Illegal' parts are illegal parts, whether in the engine or rear end.
The Wednesday appeals board reduced crew chief Jason Ratcliff's suspension from six weeks to just one.
"I think that will be a huge difference," Kenseth says.
"Jason is the guy that makes it happen. I told him when it all happened I don't think I can get along without him. So I'll miss him tonight and tomorrow and get through the day.
"I'll be really thankful I have him back next week."
"I understand you've got to react if it's not right. And certainly the piece was a question. But I'm 100 percent confident there's absolutely no performance advantage.
"So I feel good we got our points back for the chase, if we hopefully make it in. And got our bonus points back, got the pole back.
"I think the whole industry felt it was a huge penalty. I think everybody was in shock when the penalties got handed out to start with. So I felt pretty good that they were going to get reduced. But I didn't really know how far.
"I was pleasantly surprised it was reduced that much."
NASCAR's Mike Helton: not discouraged by two major setbacks in appeals by Joe Gibbs and Matt Kenseth, and by Roger Penske, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
The two judicial setbacks, in the Gibbs and Penske cases, may lead to some tweaks in the NASCAR rule book, NASCAR president Mike Helton says. "If there is a way for us to be more precise, and changing wording, or adding wording to a rule, so that the clarity of what we feel like our responsibility is translated to the member, and is obvious to anybody from the outside looking at it.....I think that's where we benefit," Helton said.
However Helton said in the Penske and Gibbs cases, if the same issues come up again, he says NASCAR will still the same way.
Yet there is no denying the stunning scope of this week's reverals for Kenseth and Gibbs.
-- Ratcliff's suspension was cut from six races to just one.
-- Kenseth winds up losing only 12 points (approximately 12 finishing positions), instead of the 50 originally assessed.
-- Gibbs' six-race suspension as car owner was overturned.
-- Kenseth was given back those three bonus points from Kansas.
And in the Penske-Keselowski-Logano case, of a trick rear end that many in this garage insist was clearly illegal, not close to a 'grey area.:
-- the suspension of seven key engineering crewmen was cut from six events to two.