By JENNA FRYER, Associated Press
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Joe Gibbs understands that NASCAR must enforce the rule book and his team deserved a penalty for an illegal part in Matt Kenseth's engine.
The team owner just disagrees with the severity of the penalties levied against Joe Gibbs Racing this week.
More importantly, he's deeply troubled with the perception JGR cheated.
"You spend your life trying to live a certain way. That's a real personal thing and is something that has a big effect on me," said Gibbs, who added that when someone wrongs him, he always searches for intent.
"The first thing I wanted to know was: 'What was their intent?'" Gibbs said Friday. "Was it an accident, was it a mistake or did they purposefully try to do something? That's important to me. This motor and what happened, there was not an attempt to circumvent the rules or have an unfair competitive advantage."
NASCAR maintained it's not its responsibility to determine intent or if the infraction provided an advantage.
"Everybody's asked the same thing — why aren't things more black and white?" said NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. "It's too light. It's too heavy. It's too wide. It's too high. It's too low. It's black and white, and we can't judge the performance because some guys do a better job of it than others, quite frankly."
The issue is not whether the part was illegal, because JGR admits one of eight connecting rods failed to meet the minimum weight requirement. But the engine came from manufacturer Toyota Racing Development, and JGR is questioning the fairness in NASCAR's harsh ruling against the team.
The reasoning, Pemberton said Friday, is two-fold.
"When you talk about engines, you talk about tires, and you talk about fuel, that's a common thread that's been understood, and it's stood the test of time for the last 65 years: Don't mess with those areas, and the penalties are severe," Pemberton said.
But NASCAR also holds the team ultimately responsible for every piece of the car presented at inspection.
"At this time we will not and cannot penalize vendors," Pemberton said. "We'd be at it all day long, whether it was a shock that went bad, a spring that collapsed that caused the car (to be) low or any of those things.
"But when you go down that road, there are a million pieces on these cars, and so we choose to go down the path that it's the team's responsibility for quality control, to check on the parts and pieces that they bring and compete with at the racetrack."
Per NASCAR policy, Kenseth's race-winning engine from Sunday at Kansas was taken back to the North Carolina Research & Development Center for a thorough inspection. Once opened up to NASCAR inspectors, one connecting rod was found to be approximately three grams — less than the weight of an envelope — too light.
Kenseth had everything but his trophy taken away, with NASCAR docking him 50 points, plus the three bonus points he earned for the win. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff was fined $200,000 and he and Gibbs were both suspended for six races.
JGR is appealing, so Ratcliff and Gibbs could work Friday at Richmond International Raceway, where Kenseth has gone on record in calling the penalties "grossly unfair" and "borderline shameful."
It's the first technical penalty JGR has appealed in 22 years, Gibbs said.
"One thing that is very important to me is the intent here was not to get an unfair advantage in any way. That's very important to me," said Gibbs, adding that 10 TRD engines have been inspected this year, eight from JGR, without an issue.
"I think basically that's what our appeal is going to be. We want to go forward and go through that process and what we'll be appealing will be the severe nature of the penalties."
Ratcliff also insisted that the No. 20 Toyota had no advantage from the one light connecting rod.
"I respect NASCAR's view on it as far as the part was illegal so by the letter of the law, the part's illegal and there's consequences for that. I do not feel like the spirit of the law was compromised," he said. "That's where we felt like the severity of the penalty is extremely harsh.
"We won Kansas, you can bet your bottom dollar on that. You make that change in that engine and that race doesn't change a bit."