Thursday, May 09, 2013

COMMENTARY: Commission Ruling Changes The Game Forever

The National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel spoke loudly yesterday, gutting the recent penalties handed down by NASCAR to Joe Gibbs Racing. 

The message they sent, however, was decidedly mixed. 

A three-member panel comprised of Stafford (CT) Motor Speedway owner/promoter Mark Arute, Dover Downs Gaming & Entertainment, Inc. President/CEO Denis McGlynn and former NASCAR team owner Jack Housby slashed Matt Kenseth’s championship points penalty from 50 to 12, effectively crediting him with a fifth-place finish at Kansas Speedway, despite the presence of an illegal connecting rod in his engine.  

They also allowed him to keep his pole win (qualifying him for the 2014 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona) and earn bonus points for the race victory at the start of the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. 

The panel reduced crew chief Jason Ratcliff’s seven-week suspension to just one week, while overturning team owner Gibbs’ seven-week suspension entirely. Based on those decisions, the commission clearly considered JGR’s engine issues to be inconsequential; a veritable blip on the NASCAR radar. 

But wait, there’s more. 

Inexplicably, the panel left Ratcliff’s $200,000 monetary fine intact, effectively saying that while the violation was worthy of only a brief suspension and minor points penalty, it somehow warranted one of the largest fines ever assessed to a Sprint Cup Series crew chief. 

Forgive me for being confused. 

In addition to sending a seriously mixed message yesterday, the commission’s ruling opens a veritable Pandora’s Box of precedent that future violators will absolutely seek to exploit. Arute, Housby and McGlynn clearly bought-into Gibbs’ assertion that since the offending engine was built by Toyota Racing Development – and not JGR –the team should not be held totally liable for its contents. They also seemed swayed by the assertion that the violation was unintentional and gave Kenseth no on-track advantage. 

Over the years, NASCAR has wisely declined to consider the issue of intent when issuing penalties. In this specific case, there was clearly no malicious intent. Everyone knows TRD and JGR didn’t mean to bring an illegal engine to Kansas Speedway last month, they simply made a costly, embarrassing mistake.  

Next time, however, intent may be more difficult to judge. Short of hiring a team of mind-readers and psychics, there is no sure way of knowing what someone is thinking when a specific violation occurs. Now, thanks to yesterday’s commission ruling, we’re going to have to guess, rather than dealing simply with the cold, hard facts. 

Yesterday’s ruling by the commission legitimizes – once and for all – the “We Didn’t Mean To” defense, and by allowing the issue of intent to influence its decision, the panel took a fateful first step down a very slippery slope, setting a precedent that cannot be taken back, and can never again be ignored.    

From now on, no team can be punished severely for a part they did not build themselves. They also can be sanctioned only for violations that provide a clear, on-track advantage. Until yesterday, it was a simple question of “legal” or “illegal.” Now, however, the commission has added a third category to the discussion; “illegal, but not illegal enough.” 

With one sweep of the pen, the National Stock Car Racing Commission may have changed the game forever.





  1. When you think about it, this ruling is a huge disadvantage to Hendrick Motorsports, and maybe even Roush Fenway Racing. If you build your own engines, you can't fall back on the "we didn't build it" defense.

  2. After yesterday's ruling, every major owner should create a holding company that is charged with building their cars, engines and bodies. The individual teams could then purchase the cars intact from the holding company and they would never be accountable for what the car has in it.

  3. Anonymous3:14 PM

    GIVE IT A REST!!! Remember the stance that you are taking when you get a speeding ticket for 56 in a 55 zone!

  4. Anonymous3:16 PM

    Brilliant. Thank you for succinctly making the point I have been struggling to verbalize. That is why you are the Godfather.

  5. Robert G.3:23 PM

    I would assume that intent is only part of it.
    You can't say week after week that my engine was illegal but it wasn't my fault.
    Looks like you can get away with it once, maybe even twice.
    I have got to believe that on the third time, you will be hit hard and told to find another engine builder.
    And the illegal engine builder will be banned from the sport.

  6. No way in this world would I be building my own engines! Although...Carl Long didn't build his...

  7. Anonymous3:59 PM

    There's nothing in this ruling keeping NASCAR from handing down sactions in the future. The system in place is similar to the court system we have in "real life". The "law enforcer" issues a sanction/fine/penalty and the "defendant" has the option to plead guilty to the violation or appeal to a higher court. Just because the higher court finds that any one individual case doesn't fit the elements and isn't deserving of the sactions issued, doesn't mean that the next time the enforcer see a violation similar, they won't charge them too. There's a big difference in my mind between being illegal and cheating, and I think there should be a different set of standards fitting to each of them. And yes, sometimes it's up to an outside group to judge intent to determine which of them the violator is guilty of.

  8. Anonymous4:00 PM

    I'll bet you Chad & company have already disassembled and reassembled motors trying to figure out what Toyota was doing! If you honestly think the scientists AKA engine builders, made a mistake with quality control, you are just naive! Toyota found something to enhance there motors (God bless them), blamed in on quality control and got away with it! $200k is a small price to pay for experimentation at this level!

  9. OK, I guess I will have to do some research. There are 8 connecting rods in an 8 cylinder engine correct? If so, were 8 illegal or just one? If it was just one that was out of tolerance/spec, what was it that was out? Was it weight? Length? Thickness? Before I follow a turn announcer blindly I would like to see more information and not just what media is reporting.

    1. Anonymous4:25 PM

      Ken, Where have you been. Blindly follow?? TRD, NASCAR, JGR...everyone involved has said it was about 2 1/2 Grams too light. And it was only one connecting rod. Before you criticize Moody...get your facts straight!!

    2. barry4:26 PM

      Moody... he's all yours....
      be gentle

    3. If you choose not to do any of the thinking yourself, Ken, you'll have no choice but to accept what people (like me) tell you.

    4. Anonymous1:12 PM

      Ken, the other 7 were overweight (i.e. OK by nascar rules) and at least 1 of those was 3 grams too heavy. It was just a weight issue. The average of all rods was over, so there was no performance advantage (BTW, Moody, this info is VERY DIFFICULT to find in the media). That said, there's a number in the rule book and it was wrong. Does that warrant a penalty? absolutely. Was there a competitive advantage? clearly no. Was there there an "intent" to cheat? clearly no. I personally think nascar went over the top; I've no idea why. I think the panel got it mostly right (I thought they should have vacated the win and the pole and maybe another 10 or so more championship points). To quote B. "Crashalotski" Keselowski, "This is like traveling in basketball...". When the intent is easy to discern (I feel you missed this point Moody), I think the appeals process should allow for "intent" to be weighed, no matter how novel or "advantageous for rule-breakers" that is. NASCAR said: you mess with the engine, we'll come down on you hard. Appeals panel said: This was a mistake, no real advantage, NASCAR came down too hard; but it was wrong and the Crew Chief should feel the brunt of that.

  10. Anonymous4:20 PM

    I'm not sure it sets a precident. The next appeals panel may have diffent members hearing the case and may rule different. If NASCAR isn't happy with the panel's decission, they can change the process and not have an appeal process. As long as the process remains the same, you are always gonna have opportunity for these rulings to get reduced or overturned to different degrees based on varing individuals hearing the cases.

  11. Anonymous4:24 PM

    When NASCAR stops the unreasonable penalties the controversy will stop. You know the Gibbs thing was a mistake. Gibbs shows up with with eight light rods the penalty stands.
    The final Penske ruling reflected deliberate alteration of parts. NASCAR's credibility will only be questioned if they continue with outlandish penalties.
    Someone inside NASCAR made alternations to the Gen 6 car personal. I suspect it was Brian France trying to get out of the shadow of his father and grandfather. The expression on Pemberton's face when he announced the Gibbs penalties made me think he didn't like it one bit.
    NASCAR enforces the rules fairly and this all goes away. They try more of the iron fist crap without thinking and they'll lose their credibility

  12. Anonymous4:28 PM

    Nascar should do away with the panel

    1. Anonymous5:15 AM

      Really?!?! Nest time you get a speeding ticket or anything else you don't agree is right, maybe you'll be thankfull there's someone else to hear your case and possibly overturn the penalty.

  13. OK, I did the research and it was 1 out of 8 that was out of weight tolerance. I have to agree with the idea that it did not present an on track advantage for the team. Mr. Moody, if you do not like it then I would suggest that you lobby for a change in the engine rules for the teams. I would suggest that all teams be required to dismantle the engines and have all parts certified by NASCAR then rebuild the engine and race it. Then there would never be the opportunity for some machine that is responsible for pouring the molten metal into a forge to make the part to be done incorrectly. Or, NASCAR could change the inspection process sequence and tear down engines before racing and after qualifying to ensure that no out of spec engines make it to the race.

  14. It seems to me that all NASCAR has to do is to make a new ruling that any violation concerning tires, fuel, or engines is not subject to appeal. After all, it is their game and they get to make the rules.

  15. Anonymous5:08 PM

    Ken, why would you comment on something before you did your research??
    Someone correct me if I'm wrong(and I know you will). Don't the teams receive their engines sealed?

    1. Anonymous5:07 AM

      no they don't all get their engines sealed. Several of the teams(ie: Hendrick, Rousch) build their own engines and don't "seal" them before delivery, because they're only taking them across the building in escense. You're thinking about the "crate engine" series that are most frequestly in the late model/"lower" classes of racing. Most NASCAR teams that buy or lease their engines from outside builders don't get sealed engines due to tuning and possibly other reasons.

  16. Anonymous5:44 PM

    with a 2 grams over on 1 rod isnt gonna help. The rotating assembly needs to be balanced= weight matched. So 1 rod lite and others over weight isnt helping anything.

  17. Anonymous8:26 PM

    I respectfully disagree with your assertions. It's fair and appropriate for the appeals judges to decide whether the infraction was a misdemeanor or a felony and to rule accordingly. Impartial governance doesn’t open the door to dishonest intent in the future, as long as reasonable evaluators continue to staff the appeals court. I don’t have a dog in this fight and I don’t favor either side – but I do believe the fact that NASCAR instituted and supports the appellate process is commendable.

  18. Look at it this way, Dave. It will give us all something to talk about, since we had nothing to say before!!!!!

  19. Anonymous8:28 AM

    Myself, I don't think that NASCAR sent any "mixed" ruling down. They sent a clear message that "intent" does matter. Clearly there was never any "intent" on the part of JGR to alter the engine to gain an advantage. Granted, the rules were violated so some sort of penalty must be issued, hence, the monetary fine was left in place. If I were on the panel I would have ruled very similar. My first question would always be, "What was the intent behind the violation?" In NASCAR as in life in general, motive or intent must always be considered.

  20. Anonymous9:53 AM

    The penalty to Jason Radcliffe I feel is unfair. My reason is as follows, if you buy an engine completely sealed are are not allowed to tear it down to check all parts, how can you be made responsible for a rod being too light. I don't understand how you penalize someone for something they have no control over. I agree that people should be penalized but only if they responsible for their own actions. Just me 2 cents.

  21. Michael in SoCal10:55 AM

    I personally don't think Jason Ratcliffe will pay the penalty. Joe Gibbs will, and Toyota will be giving massive discounts on some future engines that will equate to about $200,000 worth of discounts. And one of the high up will have a nice new Lexus in the driveway.

  22. Michael in SoCal10:58 AM

    I do have a question though: Is there a minimum weight on the engine as a whole? The cars have a minimum total weight as well. As long as the car met weight, and the engine did as well (if there is a specific engine weight), then no harm no foul in my opinion.

    I think if anything, the team would be at a disadvantage because the engine rod in particular might be more susceptible to failure because it isn't up to spec.

  23. Dipship11:26 PM

    NASCAR created this monstrosity of a penal system, they'll have to now tame it... It really is this simple, NASCAR should have fined TRD, period. None of this would've happened, If NASCAR would actually fine and penalize the actual violator. I believe the appeals panel thought the same thing, they reduced almost the entire penalty, except for the $200,000.00, which they know TRD is going to pay for J Ratcliff.