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Q and A: Kenseth Calls Penalties ‘Grossly Unfair’

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Thursday, April 25 2013

Matt Kenseth's car during the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway last weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

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Earlier this week, NASCAR came down hard on Matt Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup team. The series imposed penalties and fines on Kenseth.

The penalties stemmed from a post-race inspection after he STP 400 at Kansas Speedway that yielded a piston rod which was not up to spec.

Kenseth won the race, but at midweek, was hit with the penalties.

Kenseth has lost 50 championship driver points; the Coors Light Pole award from April 19 at Kansas Speedway will not be allowed for eligibility into the 2014 Sprint Unlimited; the first place finish from April 21 at Kansas Speedway will not earn bonus points toward the accumulated aggregate driver points total after the completion of the first 26 events of the current season and will not be credited towards the eligibility for a driver Wild Card position.

On Thursday, Kenseth answered questions from the media at Richmond International Raceway, site of this weekend’s race. The following is a transcript of that press conference.

Question: What was your reaction to the penalties NASCAR announced yesterday? Do you think they were severe?

Kenseth: “I think the penalties are grossly unfair. I think it’s borderline shameful. There’s no argument the part 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 — 2.5 (grams) above the minimum at least. There was one in there that was way heavy. There was no performance advantage, there was no intent, it was a mistake. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) had no control over it. Certainly to crush Joe Gibbs like that — to say they can’t win an owner’s championship with the 20 this year is just, I can’t wrap my arms around that, it just blows me away. And the same with Jason Ratcliff (crew chief). I don’t feel bad for myself at all, but for Jason and Joe, I just couldn’t feel any worse. There’s no more reputable, honest hard-working guys with good reputations more so than those two — I feel really bad for them.”

Q: What affects you the most about the penalties — losing the points or damaging your reputation?

MK: “It’s not really about me at all, honestly. I think that certainly, you know it depends, everybody is going to look at it different. You’re going to get people that know absolutely nothing about the whole situation and kind of cheer or whatever – - I can take all that fan backlash — it doesn’t honestly bother me really in the slightest. I feel bad for Joe (Gibbs, owner) and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) the most and our partners as well. Even taking away the pole eligibility and all that stuff. Anybody in the garage, and like I said, any knowledgeable, reputable unbiased engine builder — they know there was no advantage there. There was probably a disadvantage there if nothing else for the stuff being unbalanced. 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. I don’t think any of us have any argument about that. I just think the penalty is way over the top for that. It wasn’t anything trying to gain an advantage. It wasn’t an advantage and it was a mistake. I think that should have been taken into account.”

Q: Does Joe Gibbs Racing contribute to building the NSCS engines?

MK: “No. Joe Gibbs Racing closed their Cup engine shop and combined with TRD a year or two ago, and all the engine work is done in Costa Mesa, California. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) does have a Nationwide engine shop, but they do not work on or even look at any Cup engines. They show up on a truck or an airplane, and get taken out and get bolted in the car.”

Q: How do you overcome the penalties and move forward?

MK: “Well, I don’t think there’s any more we can do. I think my team has done an incredible job this year as far as performance. We’ve ran better than I could have ever dreamed. We don’t have all the finishes, but yet we do have two wins. I think it’s business as usual. I think we have to — probably when I walk out of here in 15 minutes or whatever — pretty much put it behind us and hope the appeals process works and we get some people in there to look at everything that are reasonable and hopefully get the penalties at least reduced some. I think other than that, we put it behind us. Business as usual. I get to work with Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) this weekend and go out and try to win a pole and try to win the race and just go with that attitude every week and just try to do the things we know how to do and keep trying to grow as a race team, and try to get better.”

Q: Do you expect a positive response from the appeals process?

MK: “I don’t know. I’ve never been through it so I honestly don’t know. That’s the hope, that’s why it’s setup. You’ve seen some examples of both. I don’t know. That’s what the hope is, that’s why it’s setup. We’ll just go through that and see what happens and see whatever the final verdict is — we’ll have to live with that and move.

Q:  What are your thoughts on these penalties — all because of three grams?

MK: “It was actually 2.7 (grams). That’s not the case. I don’t have any argument with NASCAR — that if it did not meet the weight it is not legal. If the speed limit is 35 on pit road and you’re going 35.01 — you’re speeding. I don’t have any argument with that at all. Although, I think everything is different. It’s not spelled out in the rule book — this is the penalty for that. I think everything is different. I understand a lot of NASCAR’s points. I think they do a really good job of trying to police the garage area. I understand internal parts of the engine — you can’t tech that all the time and they need to make it big so people aren’t messing with that. But like I said, when you look at ours, there was also one in there that was really, really heavy and the other seven were well over the limit. If you average the weight out of all of them, which is the only thing the engine really knows, it’s the rotating mass, that’s all it really knows — we were over 2.5 grams per rod to the good. No performance advantage. That was a mistake, a very bad mistake, a very dumb mistake. Unfortunately we are in this spot, but we are. We’ll just see what happens going forward.”

Q: What do you think an appropriate penalty would be for this infraction?

MK: “I don’t know.”

Q: Are you concerned you won’t make the Chase?

“It’s a huge penalty this year. We already have two DNFs and we were just starting to get back up in the points. It’s still early. I feel like honestly I have the strongest race team in the garage. So, I think 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, with that being said, if the penalties are upheld with pulling Coach (Joe) Gibbs (owner) 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. There are a lot of really bad things that go with being that far back in points, including provisionals and having something happen in qualifying, where you’re parked, when you’re teched, how much you get in practice — there’s a lot of things that go with that that are bad. That’s the thing I feel the worst about. I think the penalty to Coach, because it’s something he knew nothing about. It was not a performance advantage. To say you can’t win an owner’s championship with this car this year, I just think that for a guy who has been the biggest supporter for the last 22 years, man that’s a tough one to figure out.”

Q: What do you think NASCAR is trying to communicate to competitors with the severity of the penalties this year?

MK: “Man, I don’t know. I can’t really speak to anybody’s situation except for ours. And, why the penalties are so severe in our case, I don’t understand that either. I don’t really know. I think they’re certainly — like I said, I have no argument that the part in there was wrong and somebody needs to pay for that and everybody in the garage area needs to understand you can’t get away with that mistake or not a 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.”

Q: Do you have any thoughts on what the penalties should be?

MK: “No.”

Q: How do you move forward and race tonight in Denny Hamlin’s Short Track Showdown?

MK: “My excitement for tonight is at an all-time low. It just is right now. By tomorrow, I’ll be ready to get on the track and I’ll race and try to have fun tonight and give it my all. I’m excited that Denny (Hamlin), I’m excited about my teammates — I have great teammates and I’m more than happy to help them out. Today with all the circumstances all week and all the stuff going on, I’m still trying to get ready to get in the Cup car tomorrow. I still have a lot of work to do with Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) to make sure we’re ready to go to accomplish the things we want to accomplish this weekend. By tomorrow morning I’m going to be ready. I think, if it’s possible, we’re more motivated than ever. I have a lot of work to do tonight and tomorrow morning and get ready to get in the Cup car and go out and win a pole and try to win the race.”

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Thursday, April 25 2013
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