NASCAR Darlington 2013: Matt Kenseth “pleasantly surprised” penalties were reduced

USA TODAY Sports

What was Matt Kenseth’s reaction to the news that an appeals panel had greatly reduced the penalties against Joe Gibbs Racing? He was surprised and then some.

As Joe Gibbs Racing worked the appeals process, Matt Kenseth expected to see the stringent penalties imposed by NASCAR scaled back a bit.

But what happened Wednesday, when a three-member appeals board dramatically reduced the harshest of sanctions inflicted on the No. 20 team, "pleasantly surprised" the driver who initially referred to the penalties as "grossly unfair" and "borderline shameful."

"For some reason I had a pretty good feeling about Wednesday," Kenseth said Friday at Darlington Raceway. "... I didn't know if we would've got reductions that much, but I felt more confident than any other appeal that I've ever heard about that we were going to get a reduction.

"I was actually out of the country, so J.D. (Gibbs, JGR President) kept texting me and the texts kept getting longer and longer and I'm like, ‘Wait a minute. They did what? And they gave us that back?'

Instead of being docked 50 driver points, Kenseth lost just 12 and jumped to fourth in the standings from 11th, while crew chief Jason Ratcliff's suspension went from six races to just one. Perhaps most significantly, Joe Gibbs kept his owners license and will be allowed to continue to collect points on the No. 20 car.

Short of the penalties being thrown out completely, it was a decisive ruling in favor of JGR. It was also the second time in as many days a team had seen penalties lessened using the appeals process, and left some wondering if a dramatic shift was occurring with the balance of power no longer tipping in NASCAR's favor.

Kenseth doesn't see it that way, and thinks the successful appeals this week by JGR and Penske is an indication that the system not only works, but is fair.

"I think if they were worried about losing power they probably wouldn't have an appeals process," he said. "They were the ones who set all of this up and this is exactly what they set it up for.

"There's been some that have been increased as well that they've got done with and the appeals board has been like, ‘Man, that needs to be increased.' You really got to hand it to (NASCAR) for setting it up because they know that when you elicit that there's a chance that something like this might happen."

When it went before the appeals panel, JGR didn't dispute that an engine rod was less than 3 grams underweight. The team's argument centered on the severity of the penalties and why it was being held responsible for a part it did not manufacture nor install.

In a break from previous cases, the panel agreed and modified the penalties.

"These penalties are way more in line with what I initially thought that it would be compared to things that had happened in the past and things like that," Kenseth said. "I thought this was closer to what I thought it was going to be to start with."

Kenseth will be without the suspended Ratcliff this weekend. But considering the alternative, a one-race absence is something the No. 20 team will gladly deal with.

Filling Ratcliff's shoes as crew chief will be Wally Brown, with whom Kenseth has a prior relationship from when the two were at Roush Fenway Racing.

"I told (Ratcliff) when it all happened I don't think I can get along without him," Kenseth said. "I'll miss him tonight and tomorrow. I think they're really prepared and really ready for this because they kind of were thinking it was probably coming, but I'll be really thankful I have him back next week."

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