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NASCAR penalizes Kenseth after engine fails

Thursday - 4/25/2013, 11:38am  ET

Matt Kenseth (20) celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., Sunday, April 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- NASCAR has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to engines, tires and fuel on a race car. Anything even slightly improper is dealt with swiftly and severely. NASCAR always throws the book at offenders.

Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing were no exception, getting hit with one of the largest penalties in NASCAR history Wednesday after the engine from Kenseth's race-winning car at Kansas failed a post-race inspection. The team had nothing to do with the error, and manufacturer Toyota immediately accepted responsibility for one of eight connecting rods failing to meet the minimum weight requirement by 3 grams -- less than an empty envelope.

"We take full responsibility for this issue with the engine. JGR is not involved in the process of selecting parts or assembling the Cup Series engines," Toyota Racing Development President Lee White said.

It's been a busy season for NASCAR discipline. In February, Nationwide Series driver Jeremy Clements was suspended after an apparently insensitive remark to an MTV blogger and Denny Hamlin was fined $25,000 for criticizing the new Gen-6 race car.

But in the past week, NASCAR has levied more than $450,000 in fines, suspended nearly a dozen crew members for upcoming points races as it punishes teams for rules violations involving the cars themselves.

Kenseth was stripped of everything but the trophy from Sunday's win at Kansas.

"Anything to do with the engine, the fuel or the tires is going to be bad," said rival driver Kevin Harvick, who appeared with Clint Bowyer and Elliott Sadler on Wednesday in a softball game between Dover International Speedway and Pocono Raceway.

"It's always been that way. It's kind of one of those pet peeves of NASCAR."

Kenseth was docked 50 driver points in the standings -- he earned only 48 points for the victory -- and NASCAR also erased the three bonus points he earned for the win that would have been applied in seeding for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. In addition, the victory will not be credited toward his eligibility for a wild card berth in the Chase.

So, although Kenseth has two wins on the year, the Kansas win does not count in any form toward Chase eligibility. He lost his pole award, too, which could hurt eligibility for next year's Sprint Unlimited exhibition race.

The penalty to Kenseth, who held off Kasey Kahne of Hendrick Motorsports to earn his second win of the season, dropped him from eighth to 14th in the standings.

NASCAR also suspended crew chief Jason Ratcliff for six races and fined him $200,000. And in a rare move, car owner Joe Gibbs had his owner's license suspended for the next six races and he won't earn car owner points during that time. He also was docked 50 car owner points while Toyota, which supplies the JGR engines through Costa Mesa, Calif.-based TRD, lost five points in the manufacturer standings.

JGR said it would appeal.

"It is our understanding that one of the eight connecting rods on the engine was ruled too light," the statement said. "We are working with our partners at TRD on this issue."

White said Kenseth gained no advantage from the light rod.

"It was a simple oversight on TRD's part and there was no intent to deceive, or to gain any type of competitive advantage," White said. "Toyota is a company that was built on integrity, and that remains one of the guiding principles of the company. The goal of TRD has always been -- and will continue to be -- to build high-performance engines that are reliable, durable and powerful, and within the guidelines established by NASCAR."

Elliott Sadler, in his first season driving for JGR's Nationwide Series team, felt for teammate Kenseth.

"It's tough if you're Matt because you don't have anything to do with the motor. That's a TRD deal. It's not a Gibbs deal," Sadler said. "At Gibbs, we don't even touch the motor. TRD brings the motor in and puts it in. We don't even get to touch it. That's a rule. A Gibbs employee doesn't even touch that."

It's the second severe penalty against a Sprint Cup team levied by NASCAR in as many weeks.

It was Penske Racing and defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski who were punished last week after NASCAR said it found unapproved parts in the rear suspension of Keselowski and Joey Logano's cars at Texas. NASCAR docked 25 points each the drivers, fined the crew chiefs $100,000 each and suspended seven Penske employees for six races. Penske Racing's appeal is scheduled for May 1.

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