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No shades of gray here

Steve Mickey

Steve Mickey

It seems that the biggest stories to come out of the Sprint Cup Series in recent weeks don’t really center around what we are seeing on the track. Instead, the big stories are centering on teams that have crossed the lines that are drawn in the NASCAR rulebook that the sanctioning body holds near and dear to its heart.

When NASCAR introduced the Car of Tomorrow it was done so in an effort not only to make a safer car, but to also remove any gray areas that might exists in its rulebook. This year’s introduction of the new Gen-6 car also followed the same premise in that it gave individual teams little if any wiggle room to work around the rulebook in trying to put their own stamp on their car.

Every owner wants a crew chief that works in the gray area as even the smallest gain made can make a big difference on race day, but they have to know how far they can push the issue. NASCAR loves its level playing field and any attempt to tilt it in your favor is frowned on by the sanctioning body.

NASCAR has shown in recent weeks that it will not put up with any attempt to get around its rulebook that it now feels has very little if any gray areas. NASCAR now has taken the stand that it will penalize the people responsible, and not just the crew chief. When the cars of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were found to have an illegal rear-end housing, the fines and penalties imposed touched everyone that was responsible for the car.

Crew chiefs Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon were each fined $100,000 and suspended for six races, but NASCAR didn’t stop there. Car chiefs Jerry Kelley and Raymond Fox, team engineers Brian Wilson and Samuel Stanley along with team manager Travis Geisler were also suspended for six races. Everyone involved has appealed the punishment and will be allowed to continue going to the track until a hearing. Both teams were also docked 25 points in the championship Chase, but the real penalty will come into play if the appeal fails and they have to go to the track without their leadership teams in place.

Those penalties were imposed because of work in a so-called gray area that comes down to an interpretation of the rulebook, and most would agree that NASCAR’s interpretation that will ultimately carry the most weight. The rule that Matt Kenseth’s team broke had no such area for interpretation as it definitely falls in the black/ white category.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth’s joy over his win at Kansas was short lived as NASCAR officials found during its post-race inspection of his car that it had an engine part that did not meet the rulebook guidelines. One of the engine’s eight connecting rods was found to be under the minimum weight. The rulebook states that the rods must have a minimum weight of 525 grams, but one of rods from Kenseth’s Toyota engine was found to be three grams under the minimum weight. JGR does not build its own engines; they get engines from Toyota’s TRD.

NASCAR wasted very little time in announcing the fines and penalties for Kenseth’s team and the total penalty package definitely sent a message to the rest of the sport. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff has been fined $200,000 and suspended for the next six points races plus the Sprint All-Star race. Kenseth lost 50 points plus will not get any bonus points for the win and cannot use the Kansas pole win to get into the 2014 Sprint Unlimited. Gibbs was docked 50 owner points and Toyota was also docked five points in the manufacturer’s championship.

The rulebook was written for a reason and it seems that some teams are having a hard time figuring that out. It’s NASCAR’s book and if you want to play, then you better follow “The Book”!

Race Preview
Event: Aaron’s 499
Track: Talladega Superspeedway
(2.66-mile tri-oval, 320 of banking
in the turns)
Date: May 5, 1 p.m.
Radio: MRN
Defending Champion: Brad Keselowski

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