BREAKING: Penske Penalty Upheld On Appeal
As you’re reading this article, Penske Racing is likely in the middle of a bid to restore points and erase fines and suspensions to their two-car, Sprint Cup organization. Below is a quick primer to get you prepped for the next step of the NASCAR appeals process:
What: Penske Racing Appeal
When: Wednesday, May 1st at 9:30 AM
Where: The organization’s Research & Development center in Concord, NC
What’s at stake? Following the race at Texas, NASCAR assessed both Penske teams’ penalties based on what they claimed was faulty rear-end housing confiscated during pre-race inspection. The consequences were:
No. 2 team
25 driver points lost (Brad Keselowski)
25 owner points lost (Roger Penske)
Six-race suspension for crew chief Paul Wolfe (plus the All-Star Race)
Six-race suspension for car chief Jerry Kelley (plus the All-Star Race)
Six-race suspension for team engineer Brian Wilson (plus the All-Star Race)
$100,000 fine (assessed to Wolfe)
No. 22 team
25 driver points lost (Joey Logano)
25 owner points lost (Roger Penske)
Six-race suspension for crew chief Todd Gordon (plus the All-Star Race)
Six-race suspension for car chief Raymond Fox III (plus the All-Star Race)
Six-race suspension for team engineer Samuel Stanley (plus the All-Star Race)
$100,000 fine (assessed to Gordon)
Six-race suspension for team manager Travis Geisler (plus the All-Star Race)
Probation for all suspended crew members through December 31st
Who will give a verdict? Three members will be chosen at random from 48 authorized by NASCAR to act as “judges” on their rules and regulations. Here’s a quick list of who could be on the panel…
Former Drivers: Buddy Baker, Janet Guthrie, Hurley Haywood, Bill Lester, Robert Pressley, Shawna Robinson, Lyn St. James
Former Crew Chiefs: Buddy Parrott, Waddell Wilson
Former Car Owners: Jack Housby, Steve Lewis, Bud Moore, Robert Yates
Track Operators: Mark Arute, Lee Baumgarten, Clay Campbell, Joie Chitwood, Ed Clark, Barbara Cromarty, Doug Fritz, Richard Gore, Russell Hackett, Brandon Igdalsky, Stan Lasky, Grant Lynch, Denis McGlynn, Bill Mullis, Steve Page, Dane Pinilis, Cathy Rice, Kevin Whitaker, John White, Jim Williams, Jo DeWitt Wilson
Administrators: Jeff Belskus, John Bishop, Paul Brooks, John Capels, Ken Clapp, David Hall, John Horton, Don Panoz, Jay Signore, Humpy Wheeler
Random: Christiane Ayotte (Doping Control Director), Dick Berggren (former broadcaster), Robert L. DuPont (drug expert), Laurel Farrell (toxicologist)
NASCAR has not announced which three will be appointed for tomorrow’s appeal. However, based on past history the sanctioning body tends to nominate those with technical knowledge of the subject. That would almost guarantee one of the six crew chiefs or car owners will be selected, if not two. There will be a fourth person, non-voting who will serve as an administrator, helping in the collection of documents, transcribing, etc. (like a court reporter).
The three voting members in attendance will listen to both sides, with no time limit for either and then make a decision based on the evidence presented. A detailed, written explanation on why they chose “guilty” or “not guilty” is recommended but not required.
What NASCAR will argue: That Penske broke Rule 20-12, which maintains all suspension systems and components must be approved by NASCAR. The sanctioning body claims the Penske teams manipulated their rear end systems beyond legal limits in an attempt to gain a handling advantage on the rest of the field. They’ll maintain past inspections were irrelevant, that once the parts were deemed to fit outside the NASCAR rulebook they were justifiably confiscated. The panel is likely to hear, in more detail, why these parts didn’t fit NASCAR’s template; after all, it took several days before any official deemed them “illegal” in the first place.
What Penske will argue: That the parts were legal and the teams were merely working within the gray area of NASCAR’s rulebook in order to naturally gain competitive speed. Also, they’ll question how the car could make it through multiple pre-race inspections before being pulled just before the start of the event. There’s been a lot of talk, throughout the garage area, about another team “ratting out” Penske, with most pointing the finger at Hendrick Motorsports (HMS strongly denies any allegations). Don’t expect that to form the bulk of Penske’s argument, though; instead, as Keselowski affirmed this past weekend, they’re likely to ignore it altogether. In the end, it doesn’t matter who points out you shoplifted if you left the store without paying for the product.
Unlike next week, when the severity of the penalties will be the central focus, Penske will look for all the consequences to be wiped out.
What history tells us: It’s not good for Penske. Even Hendrick Motorsports’ 2012 appeal, which was ultimately drastically reduced for Jimmie Johnson and Company, wasn’t affected until it got to National Stock Car Racing Commissioner John Middlebrook.
Of 146 initial appeals, from 1999 to the present day, 102 of them have been upheld by the three-man panel: a rate of 70%. Last season, four such penalties made it to the NASCAR appeals process, combined in the Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series. In essence, all of them were, at first, upheld; only a fine, for Norm Benning’s No. 57, was reduced by $4,000. (Of second appeals heard by Middlebrook, the outcome has been different; he has reduced the consequences on all but one or two.)
Perhaps the only portion of the penalty that tilts Penske Racing’s way is how we’ve never seen fines and suspensions of this magnitude. At no time in NASCAR’s recent history have we seen so many put out to pasture at once; the removal of seven potential crew chiefs amongst two cars leaves Penske with a “bare bones” effort to replace them atop the pit box. That type of severity, which breaks precedent from other “gray area” rulings in recent years, will make it tougher for NASCAR to state their case as to why so many have to sit out.
What if NASCAR loses? The process is complete.
What if Penske is dissatisfied? They have the right to appeal again, to National Stock Car Racing Commissioner John Middlebrook. Until then, none of the suspensions would take effect, although the 25-point deductions for both driver and crew will remain.
What Will Happen? My gut tells me there’s no way the penalties themselves get rescinded on a final appeal. However, I can certainly see some of the suspensions for the team engineers, along with team manager Travis Geisler getting reduced. It’s hard to find a precedent for this type of situation considering in every other recent scenario of breaking the rules no engineer was ever docked for six weeks. It’s typically the crew chief and car chief, max and that’s what I expect to see here.
The key to a final appeal will be what Middlebrook does, considering what happened with Johnson the season before. So tomorrow will be little more than a drama builder for a big decision that will likely land in the hands of the Commissioner.
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The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.