By JENNA FRYER, Associated Press
DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Matt Kenseth was in Canada when J.D. Gibbs sent him the results of their appeal to NASCAR to reduce sweeping penalties against Joe Gibbs Racing.
"J.D. kept texting me and the texts just kept getting longer and longer," Kenseth said Friday. "I'm like, 'Wait a minute. They did what? They gave us that back?'"
They sure did.
Aside from crew chief Jason Ratcliff's absence Friday at Darlington Raceway, it was almost like nothing ever happened after a three-member appeal panel dramatically reduced the penalties for having an illegal part in Kenseth's race-winning engine at Kansas.
Among the key changes: Ratcliff's suspension was reduced from six races to one, Kenseth lost only 12 points instead of 50, a six-race suspension against team owner Joe Gibbs was wiped out and Kenseth had his three bonus points from the Kansas victory restored.
It sent Kenseth to Darlington for Saturday night's race fourth in the Sprint Cup standings instead of 11th. Wally Brown, who once worked as Carl Edwards' crew chief at Roush Fenway Racing, is filling in for Ratcliff this weekend.
"The penalties were pretty crushing before they got reduced," Kenseth said. "I applaud NASCAR for having the appeals process and putting that in place to have some people look at it after all the dust settles a little bit and be objective ... I feel like they did a nice job of looking at all the facts and circumstances that went with it and made a decent decision."
It was a far cry from his reaction two weeks ago when NASCAR initially sanctioned the team for finding one of the eight connecting rods in his engine did not meet the minimum weight requirement. JGR leases its engines from Toyota Racing Development, which immediately accepted responsibility, and both JGR and TRD said no performance advantage was gained form the part.
Kenseth called the penalties "borderline shameful" when they were handed down.
And even though the appeals board has a record that heavily favors NASCAR, Kenseth felt confident the penalties would be reduced.
"For some reason, I had a pretty good feeling ... I didn't know it would come back to be exactly what it was, I didn't know if we would have gotten a reduction that much, but I felt more confident than any other appeal I've ever heard about," Kenseth said. "We had a pretty good case and there were different things that happened where I felt like it would get reduced. I think everybody was shocked when the penalties got handed out to start with, so I felt pretty good it was going to get reduced."
The appeals board a week earlier unanimously upheld penalties against Penske Racing for having unapproved parts on its car during a pre-race inspection at Texas. But Penske took the case to chief appellate officer John Middlebrook, the final level, and on Tuesday he reduced the suspensions of seven key employees from six races to two plus next week's All-Star event.
Penske Racing viewed Middlebrook's ruling as a small victory, even as the team went to Darlington this weekend reaching deep into its bench to fill the voids.
Five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who has been through his share of appeals with Hendrick Motorsports, didn't know what to make of the rulings for JGR and Penske. Drivers don't typically attend the appeals, and are only told later how they went.
"You don't expect these reductions," he said. "I get phone calls about what the vibe was like inside the meeting, what the meeting was like, and they are never optimistic. It's a tough thing to live through. I know that NASCAR can never hand out a penalty that's less than, we know it's always going to be more than a previous penalty. They look at past history, intent and a few other things to set their standards. And then from there, it's like the regular justice system. You go in there to try and plead your case.
"Thinking about it, it means get in there and fight. It's worth fighting and trying to lessen your penalty."
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