JGR penalties were extreme, but justified

Ed Zurga

When an illegal engine was found in Matt Kenseth’s car, NASCAR had little choice but to come down harshly on Joe Gibbs Racing.

There isn't a person in the garage who doesn't know what the repercussions are if they were to violate a rule pertaining to tires, fuel or engines. Those are the no-nos in the sport and any infringement to one of those three elements will elicit a heavy-handed response from NASCAR like nothing else.

If anyone didn't comprehend that edict before, Wednesday served as a further reminder of what happens when one of NASCAR's unassailable rules is compromised.

Collectively, Matt Kenseth, Jason Ratcliff, Toyota and the entire Joe Gibbs Racing operation were slapped with penalties by NASCAR that are some of the most severe in recent memory.

Kenseth will lose 50 points and will not get credit for his Kansas win and the bonus points that go with it if he were to make the Chase by finishing in the top 10. He will also not be able to use that victory towards securing a wildcard slot if so needed.

Ratcliff, the crew chief for the No. 20 team, has been suspended six races and fined a staggering $200,000.

NASCAR was so offended by the egregiousness of finding that one of the eight rods connected to Kenseth's motor was underweight that it took the unusual step of docking Toyota five manufacturer points.

JGR avows that it wasn't its intention to violate any rules. The organization merely had an already assembled engine put into one of its cars with no way for the team to know that a single rod was roughly three grams -- slightly heavier than a penny -- underweight.

This was corroborated by Lee White, the president of Toyota Racing Development, who in a statement exonerated JGR of any misconduct.

"JGR is not involved in the process of selecting parts or assembling the Cup Series engines," White said. "It was a simple oversight on TRD's part and there was no intent to deceive, or to gain any type of competitive advantage."

But penalties in NASCAR have never been about intent.

In the sanctioning body's eyes a car is either legal or illegal. There is nothing in between, regardless of how hard a team may make work to blur the lines.

It has long been NASCAR's policy that a team -- in particular the crew chief -- is responsible for any and all parts that go on a car. If a piece used from a third party doesn't conform to what's in the rule book the burden falls on the team to be more thorough.

"I respect their stance on it," Ratcliff said Wednesday night on Sirius/XM Radio. "They've got to have a go-to guy and that go-to guy is the crew chief."

This is why Wednesday's penalties, while excessive in nature, were also justified.

No matter how minute the difference in weight may have been, a rule was broken -- something Toyota readily acknowledges.

And since officials only have so much authority to sanction Toyota, instead, it will be the team itself which incurs NASCAR's wrath of justice. Just as it should be, because guilty is guilty and no matter how you view it, JGR is getting punished for a crime it was a part of committing.

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