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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: NASCAR buries another championship contender. And Matt Kenseth is asking questions....

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: NASCAR buries another championship contender. And Matt Kenseth is asking questions....

Matt Kenseth and family, Kansas Speedway victory lane (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Okay, Matt, time to 'fess up.
   What the heck is going on here?
   NASCAR has just busted hard on you, a $200,000 fine, a six-week suspension for crew chief Jason Ratcliffe, no team owner points for six races, and a bunch more.
    "I think the penalties are grossly unfair," the mild-mannered Kenseth was saying Thursday afternoon here at Richmond International Raceway, as he prepared for some unexpected sub time for teammate Denny Hamlin in Late Models at this 3/4-mile.  
   "I think it's borderline shameful.  
   "There's no argument the part (an engine connecting rod) was wrong.  They weighed it and it was wrong.  
    "However there is an argument that there certainly was no performance advantage.  
     "If you can find any unbiased, reputable, knowledgeable engine builder, and if they saw the facts -- what all the rods weighed....
     "The average weight of all the rods was well above the minimum.  There was one in there that was way heavy.  
     "There was no performance advantage, there was no intent, it was a mistake."
   One curious aspect of this is that Toyota itself builds the engines, not the teams. This particularly engine was built in Toyota's Los Angeles shop. And the part in question came from a European supplier.
    How many race teams still build their own engines? Not many.
   Kenseth points out that his team "had no control over it."
    And he says the penalties -- which would likely take Kenseth out of the championship playoffs, even though it's only April -- are unfair.
   It might be interesting for team sponsor Home Depot to weigh in on this perhaps.
   And remember teammate Hamlin is still sidelined himself and all but out of the title chase too....with all that might mean for his sponsor FedEx.


   Denny Hamlin, Kenseth's teammate, all but out of the championship playoffs because of a back injury, and NASCAR's no sub rules (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Kenseth gets a bit angry at all this: "To crush Joe Gibbs like that... to say they can't win an owner's championship with the team this year... I can't wrap my arms around that. It just blows me away.  
    "And the same with Jason Ratcliff.  I don't feel bad for myself at all, but for Jason and Joe, I just couldn't feel any worse.  
    "There are no more reputable, honest, hard-working guys with good reputations than those two. I feel really bad for them."

   Guilt, Kenseth accepts.
   "I don't argue there was a scale, and it says it has to weigh 225 grams, and if it weighs 224.99, it's illegal," Kenseth concedes.
    "I don't think any of us have any argument about that.  
    "I just think the penalty is way over the top for that.
    "Hope the appeals process works, and we get some people in there to look at everything who are reasonable, and hopefully get the penalties at least reduced some."

     Perhaps part of this whole story is that this isn't the first questionable call by NASCAR this spring. It isn't even the second.
    In fact it follows a string of questionable decisions, all the way from that weird $25,000 fine on Hamlin for some post-race comments at Phoenix to that still bizarre Penske-Keselowski-Logano rear end controversy at Texas two weeks ago, still on-going.
    While NASCAR's calls may be all right by the book, there is the sense that NASCAR officials are woefully out of touch with the real world in making some of the calls.
    Certainly some of these controversial calls are overshadowing the racing on the track....which, to be honest, hasn't been all that great lately. Two men, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., dominated Texas; Kenseth dominated Kansas. Little side by side action except on double-file restarts and on pit road.


   Team owner Joe Gibbs (L) and Texas NRA 500 winner Kyle Busch (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Kenseth, not the sort to get angry, despite provocation, says "I understand a lot of NASCAR's points.  
   "I think they do a really good job of trying to police the garage.  
   "I understand internal parts of the engine, that you can't tech that all the time, and they need to make it (penalties) big so people aren't messing with that.  
    "But this was no performance advantage.  That was a mistake, a very bad mistake, a very dumb mistake."

   And Kenseth well understands if the penalties stand, he will almost certainly be joining Hamlin on the sidelines this fall watching others contend for the Sprint Cup  championship.  He is a whopping 109 points behind tour leader Jimmie Johnson, and the five-time champ could sit out these next two races and still be far ahead of Kenseth in the standings.
   "We already have two DNFs, and we were just starting to get back up in the points," Kenseth reflected.  "It's still early.  
   "I feel, honestly, I have the strongest team in the garage.  
    "If anybody can come back from it and get us in a spot to have a shot at winning a championship, it's my group.  
    "But if the penalties are upheld -- pulling Coach  Gibbs'  license for six weeks and not collecting any owner's points -- when that time is over, we'll be about 35th in owner points.  Obviously it's impossible to win an owner's championship.  
     "To say 'You can't win an owner's championship with this car this year,' for a guy (Gibbs) who has been the biggest supporter for the last 22 years, man that's a tough one to figure out."

   Is NASCAR trying to send a message?

   At this rate Jimmie Johnson could be an easy shoe-in for a sixth championship, with all his toughest competition sidelined.
   What is really behind the rash of penalties this spring?
    "Man, I don't know," Kenseth replies.
    "I can't really speak to anybody's situation except ours.  And why the penalties are so severe in our case, I don't understand that either.  
     "I don't really know.  
    "I have no argument that the part in there was wrong and somebody needs to pay for that, and everybody in the garage needs to understand you can't get away with that mistake. It's still wrong, and I understand all that.
    "But the severity? I don't really know how or why they came up with what they did."


     Kyle Busch celebrates winning last spring's Richmond 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



NASCAR should build all the cars, engines etc then draw for drivers. NASCAR wants to be a round ball sport. Have at it... car guys don't give a flip about NASCAR anymore, with all the overpriced money boys who have taken the sport away from the guys who built it.


Wonder why nascar doesn't just award Johnson the championship now? then we could all stop going to or watching the races now.

NASCAR penalties

I think NASCAR is living in bizarro world. I'm not a fan of Toyota, Joe Gibbs, Kenseth, Hamlin or Joe Gibbs Racing's organization but the penalties this year seem really out of whack.

NASCAR really needs to worry about hiring better engineers to work on the "gen 6" car and get Goodyear to bring a decent tire, rather than some of these nonsensical penalties.

a lot of people seem to be thinking that NASCAR favors HMS over the rest of the teams. I have no idea if that is true or not. I cheer for Jeff Gordon, I always have. Couldn't give a rat's you know what about Johnson, although I will say I hope he doesn't win another Chase to get closer to supposedly equaling Petty and Earnhardt's 7 championships. Winning the 10 race trophy is NOT the same thing as winning 7 Cup championships over full seasons.


Remember the situation in 1978 when USAC started levying heavy handed penalties, tried to take control of car and engine specs and showed a total disrespect for the owners and drivers? That led to the formation of C.A.R.T. by Roger Penske, Dan Gurney, Pat Patrick and Carl Hogan. USAC became irrelevant and the new association became the standard bearer for open-wheel racing in the U.S. It doesn't take much imagination to see the current owners pursue that option.

Common Sense

Just remembering "the good old days of NASCAR" when the sport was "down to earth" and governed by sensible men like Bill France Sr. and Bill Jr. Those were the days when racing was fun! Anyone who was willing to work long and hard, make lots of sacrifices, and had "True Grit" could have a shot at making it in the "big leagues" of NASCAR!

I wonder if Bill Sr./Jr. worried about Wendell Scott's Ford "tow truck/race car" motor... the one he used in his tow-truck to get to the track? Upon arrival at the track he pulled the engine out of the truck and installed it in his race-car and raced. After the race he re-installed it in his truck to get back home!
Maybe Wendell Scott was so brilliant that he "shaved 3 grams off each connecting rod" for a competitive advantage at Jacksonville so he could win, and then was sly enough to make the excuse that he needed his engine to "get back home" in order to keep it out of "NASCAR's post-race tech inspection?" (tic)

Obviously this scenario about Wendell Scott shaving 3 grams off each connecting rod is ludicrous, BUT the fact that he had to sometimes use his "tow-truck motor" in his race-car IS True!

Why this story is important to remember is because these are the Legends that fans identify with, the very things that made NASCAR the great sport that it became! Fans love underdogs winning against all odds but everyone hates Tyrants that "micro-manage and inflict Draconian Punishments" to the point of being ridiculous!

NASCAR needs to "tread lightly" before they drive away all the fans, sponsors and competitors! Who, in their right mind, really needs all this AGGRAVATION?

Good article, but you severely overstated the

Good article, but you severely overstated the impact this has on his chase chances. To quote "And Kenseth well understands if the penalties stand, he will almost certainly be joining Hamlin on the sidelines this fall watching others contend for the Sprint Cup championship."

I assume you are more intelligent than that so am going to assume you were over-dramatizing for affect. The fact is that even if the penalties fully stand he is less than 30 pts out of top 10 and as of today he actually makes the chase as the first wild card. All that after having some really bad luck on the track and a ridiculous 50 pt penalty. The statement that he "will almost certainly be joining Hamlin on the sidelines this fall" is asinine.

Not to say the penalty does not hurt and make it harder, but pretty foolish to say it is "almost certain" to write his season off.

Mike, Agree with your comments about the

Mike, Agree with your comments about the "'almost certain' to write this season off". The system does make it possible for Kenseth to make the Chase and contend for the Championship even with the penalties imposed, so

But, if anyone thinks the Sanctioning Body is going to let the season play out so that this severely penalized team is going to be sitting at the head table come December thus make a mockery out of their beloved Chase, they have another thing coming. Plus, if they were to overcome this, it would show that these heavy handed penalties weren't harsh enough-which is something else the Sanctioning Body cannot abide.

Look for somewhere along the line for MK and JGR to either be found to be repeat offenders and receive an even more severe penalty thus driving the final nail in the coffin or encounter a sudden rash of miscues (too fast on pit road, pitting outside the box, loose lug nuts) which will result in their on-track performance removing them from contention.

Bottom line-mathematically they may still be in the 2013 hunt, but with this Sanctioning Body it ain't gonna happen.

Kenseth is spot on right about this penalty. If

Kenseth is spot on right about this penalty. If there is anything to get worried about, it is the fact that there was too much variance in the weights of all of the connecting rods, causing an imbalance in the engine which, if anything, would be a competitive disadvantage. Imagine how good these Toyota engines would be if their parts suppliers could provide more consistency in the weights of the parts.

NASCAR is trying to control too much for their own good. How is the efficiency of any of the engines ever going to improve if every part is regulated to the point that nothing innovative can ever be done with the engines.

Part of racing used to be who could build the best engine and get the best set up and that meant anyone in the garage had a chance to hit it right on any given weekend.

The driver is about the only advantage any car builder can get these days, and there is a limited supply of the best driver out there.

Racing was a lot more fun when you never knew who would show up with the best car.

It was also a lot more satisfying for the car builders to know they could make a difference each week if they did great work in the garage. Imagine your job being reduced to checking the exact weights of parts and the exact tolerances of every part of the car, down to the weight of the damned sponsor logo on the hood.

NASCAR needs to rethink whether they want to run racing like the government tries to run commerce, or whether they want to embrace the innovations that come out of the garage and let the car builders back into the game.

Does everything have to be so regulated that competition is eliminated entirely?

Why all the penalities and fines.Its

Why all the penalities and fines. It's useless!

Take the win away plain and simple. Take the pole away and let it stand just like they never showed up. In nascars own words don't touch the engines tires and fuel and everyone knows that. If any of those 3 are found to be like kenseths car was strip the win.
All the fines and hoopla around them is nascar's way of publicity.

Again nascar has dropped the ball. It's time for a change on the way nascar makes calls on certain things and this is one of them. Nascar can't even get their web site up and going.

I wish we the fans could penalize nascar on there dumb calls on brad and denny for saying what everyone obviously knew. The no call on johnson's daytona car and then the no call on stewart for his temper tantrum and trying to fight joey. The waiting to make brad and joey almost miss the start of the race, yet jr could commit murder and it would be overlooked, like his below the line that was a no call by nascar at talladega on his last win there.

nascar needs someone new in charge besides france. He has lost control of the sport.


The penalty is way too harsh. Appeal.

I've followed NASCAR for 45 years, I'm about done with them.

the dorks from daytona

Well folks. Another top team is hammered, paving the way for JJ to win another Hendricks cup championship. The pitter-patter and click click are the sound of fans either walking away from the sport (again) or watching other sports on TV. nas$car has gotten so adept at shooting themselves in the foot (or head) that all I can do is shake my head in amazement. Yea, the WWE is alive and well in Daytona. And I came into this season with such high hopes due to the new car amongst other changes. So much for that.

What's behing the penalties?

Anybody who threatens Hendrick's chance at the championship is going to be penalized sufficiently to remove the threat.

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