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Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing hit with unprecedented penalty

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2013

Matt Kenseth won last Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, but after Wednesday the only reminder left is the trophy.

NASCAR penalized Kenseth 50 driver points – more than he earned for the victory – and his crew chief at Joe Gbbs Racing, Jason Ratcliff, was suspended six races and fined $200,000 after the engine in Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota failed a routine post-race inspection at NASCAR’s research and development center in Concord this week.

One of eight connecting rods in Kenseth’s engine failed to meet the minimum weight requirement.

Kenseth also lost the three bonus points he earned for his Kansas win, points that would have been applied in seeding for the Chase for the Cup.

He also was stripped of the pole award he won last Friday utilizing the same engine, and with it his eligibility for the 2014 Sprint Unlimited race at Daytona International Speedway.

Kenseth, who has won two of the season’s first eight races, dropped from eighth in the series standings into a tie with Jeff Gordon in 14th place.

“It is our understanding that one of the eight connecting rods on the engine was ruled too light,” JGR said in a statement. “We are working with our partners at (Toyota Racing Development) on this issue.”

TRD, based in California, provides engines for JGR’s three Cup series teams.

JGR said it would appeal its penalties, which rank among the most severe assessed by NASCAR.

In addition to the points deduction, fine and crew chief suspension, NASCAR also docked car owner Joe Gibbs 50 owner points and suspended the owner’s license for the No. 20 Toyota for six races, meaning the car cannot collect owner points during that time.

Toyota also was docked five points in the manufacturer standings.

“We take full responsibility for this issue with the engine used by the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team this past Sunday in Kansas,” said Lee White, president of TRD. “JGR is not involved in the process of selecting parts or assembling the Cup Series engines.

“It was a simple oversight on TRD’s part and there was no intent to deceive, or to gain any type of competitive advantage.”

Truck series leader penalized

Also Wednesday, NASCAR hit Truck Series points leader Johnny Sauter with one of that series’ harshest penalties after it found an altered fuel cell on his No. 98 Toyota last week at Kansas.

Joe Shear, crew chief for Sauter’s team, was suspended for the next four races and fined $10,000. Shear was also placed on NASCAR probation through Dec. 31. In addition, Sauter – who won the serie’’ first two races of the season – was stripped of 25 points.

Sauter, who left Kansas the points leader, is now tied in second with Jeb Burton. Both drivers are 13 points behind new leader, Matt Crafton.

Hamlin remains sidelined

As of late Wednesday, Cup driver Denny Hamlin had not received clearance to return to racing this weekend.

Hamlin broke a veterbra in his back last month in wreck at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. He was initially told by doctors he would miss at least six weeks of action but had hoped he had made enough progress to race this weekend at Richmond, Va.

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