Brad Keselowski: not backing down...and says the media needs to do a better job of figuring out just what's going on in the NASCAR garage (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
The Roger Penske controversy, with those trick rear-ends at Texas last weekend, doesn't look like a closed case yet, no sir, not at all.
In fact there is a sense in some quarters of the Sprint Cup garage that this brouhaha is yet another example of NASCAR executives increasingly out of touch.
Brad Keselowski's Texas tirade -- when he used hard terms like "shameful" and "targeted" -- may be the boldest case yet made that something appears seriously amiss in NASCAR.
And Keselowski here Friday wasn't backing off:
"I think it's pretty obvious that defining cheating in this sport is something that's been very poorly done, and I think you all (in the media) are probably the ones that need to step back and try to figure out how to define that better... because clearly this garage is having a hard time doing that."
Jimmie Johnson, whose team ran into similar rear-end issues last season, but was not penalized, knows well the harsh glare of the spotlight when NASCAR officials bring out the sledgehammer.
"When you have success, the magnifying glass, the viewpoint from everybody -- NASCAR, other teams -- gets a lot more intense," Johnson says.
So did the Johnson team rat out the Penske team at Texas?
"The best officiating in the garage area has always been your neighbor," Johnson said. "That has just been part of NASCAR for years and years. That is why NASCAR has the procedures in place that they do in the garage area, and why even in F1 today they are not allowed to cover their stuff anymore.
"With all that being said, no, the Hendrick group and our team did not rat out the Penske cars.
"There are two decisions teams are faced with in the garage area: Everybody has people watching. We have been very impressed with Penske cars and staff, and their ability to have somebody just stand and watch other teams.
"This is the environment in the garage.
"Yeah, there are eyes open. But when a team sees something, they have two options. One, they can go home and try to adapt it to their car and understand it and see if they can make it work... or they can go in the (NASCAR) truck and say something.
"We don’t say something.
"We are a company built on performance. We are a company that tries to understand the rulebook as close as we can to the law.
"Sure, we have had our issues with it, but that is racing it has been that way since day one.
"We try to be as smart as we can, and conform to the rules and put the best car on the track.
"With all that being said, sure there was a lot of activity around the Penske cars during the test day (Thursday at Texas), just like all the other cars and everybody is watching.
"But in no way, shape, or form did anybody from this team walk into that truck and say anything."
Jimmie Johnson: No, we didn't rat out Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Keselowski himself is showing a steely game face about all this.
No, he says, he wasn't surprised by NASCAR harsh penalties -- the 25-point penalties, the $100,000 fines, the six-week suspension of nearly half a dozen key crew men.
Penske says he will appeal, but no date has been set.
"I don't think I've been surprised by much of anything in the last two or three days," Keselowski says.
"But I think it's really important to allow the appeal process to work its way out on its own. That's why it exists.
"I'm thankful that there is a process for appeals, because obviously we're in an 'agree to disagree' stage between Penske Racing and NASCAR, and there's thankfully, a third panel to settle those disagreements."
NASCAR's appeals panels, three men picked from a big group of NASCAR veterans, typically uphold whatever penalty has already been assessed. The number of cases overturned on appeal is extremely small.
Until the appeal is heard, Keselowski says he'll keep a low profile on the issue. "I don't want to jeopardize the ability to have a clear appeal."
Keselowski indicates his people may offer a defense similar to the one used by Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus last year after NASCAR cracked down hard on aerodynamic body modifications at Daytona.
"I think there's definitely some similarities," Keselowski says. "I'm not going to say it's an identical situation, but there are definitely some similarities, yes."
Part of Knaus' defense was the particular part in question had been used before without issue or question by NASCAR.
And the appeals board, in a shocker, overturned Knaus' suspension.
For some, perhaps NASCAR's crackdown on Keselowski is seen as 'turnabout as fair play,' considering how Keselowski called Hendrick teams out over just this issue last summer.
"I'm sure there are some people out there thinking that, but no one has said that to me," Keselowski said.
Crew chiefs Paul Wolfe (L) and Chad Knaus, at Homestead last fall after battling down to the wire for the NASCAR championship. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)