Hardly anyone likes to be punished, including Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Kenseth won the most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway on April 21 after starting from the pole and dominating the event. But after the race, the engine in the No. 20 car failed inspection and Kenseth and the No. 20 team were heavily penalized.
While Kenseth said he doesn't feel sorry for himself, he referred to the penalties handed to his team as "grossly unfair" and "borderline shameful" in a press conference at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on Thursday.
Among the penalties were a six-race suspension for Jason Ratcliff and a loss of points for both Kenseth and car owner Joe Gibbs. Those types of penalties are not uncommon. There was also a loss of points for manufacturer Toyota and the race win will not count toward bonus points or a wild card spot for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup. Also, the pole Kenseth won a couple of days prior to the race won't count as qualifying him or the No. 20 team for next year’s Sprint Unlimited -- the February exhibition race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for previous season pole winners.
The biggest bone of contention, though, for Kenseth seems to be the six-race suspension of Gibbs' owner's license for the No. 20 Toyota for six races. That six-race suspension means that the No. 20 team won't be awarded owner points for the next six points-paying races.
"Certainly to crush Joe Gibbs like that -- to say that they can't win an owner's championship with the 20 this year is just, I can't wrap my arms around that," Kenseth said. "It just blows me away."
The harsh penalties came about because of the weight of one of the connecting rods in the engine. Toyota Racing Development, the builder and supplier of the engine, released a statement soon after the penalty announcement, accepting all responsibility for the issue.
TRD may have built the engine, and Toyota was docked five manufacturer points, but Joe Gibbs Racing received the brunt of the penalties, something that Kenseth doesn't quite see as fair. According to Kenseth, nobody at Joe Gibbs Racing even looks at Sprint Cup engines before their put in one of the organization's three Cup cars.
"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, Calif.," Kenseth said. "JGR 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 bolted in the car."
According to Kenseth, the rod issue didn't even give him an advantage. If anything, it was a disadvantage.
"Anybody in the garage, and like I said, any knowledgeable, reputable, unbiased engine builder -- they know there was no advantage there," Kenseth said. "There was probably a disadvantage there if nothing else for the stuff being unbalanced."
Advantage or disadvantage, there was a connecting rod that wasn't up to spec. Kenseth acknowledges and accepts that. What he doesn't accept, however, is that his team is being severely punished for something it wasn't directly responsible for. Maybe the call to outsource its Sprint Cup engine building wasn't such a great call after all.