Penske says team was "working in a gray area"
Roger Penske maintained Saturday his team was working in a gray area of the rule book when NASCAR confiscated parts from the cars of defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano.
"I certainly don't think it's cheating," Penske told The Associated Press on Saturday at the IndyCar race in Long Beach. "You are looking at the rules and you are working in a gray area. We all work in the gray areas. We're trying to be as competitive as we can be, we've got very creative minds and it takes a lot of creative minds to be competitive.
"There are many different areas we are all working on. We just looked at a particular rule that maybe NASCAR has a different view of. Now we'll get a chance to have an unbiased panel look at it."
NASCAR seized parts from the rear-end housings of both Penske Racing Fords during pre-race inspection at Texas last Saturday. On Wednesday, NASCAR suspended both crew chiefs and five other team members for six races, levied $200,000 in fines and docked each driver 25 points.
Penske will appeal to a three-member panel.
He maintained the parts on both cars had been approved by NASCAR, but officials have accused the team of modifying them after approval.
"NASCAR has approved parts and unapproved parts. The parts that we had were approved parts, they are concerned that we modified them. That's where the discussion is," he said. "From an overall standpoint, NASCAR felt what we had provided them for approval then, these parts were different during the inspection process."
It's not clear if the organization was working in an area it believes is not addressed in the rule book or if it was blatant disregard for the rules because NASCAR hasn't publicly detailed its case against Penske.
But, the rule book was specifically changed this season to address many of the modifications teams were doing last year to the rear-end housings. Among the changed language to the passage is that all suspension systems and components must be presented "in a completed form/assembly" prior to being used in competition.
A second new passage clearly states, "all front end and rear end suspension mounts and mounting hardware must not allow movement or realignment of any suspension component beyond normal rotation or suspension travel." That puts in writing that NASCAR will not tolerate teams altering the skew of the rear ends the way they did a year ago.
Penske said there was no prior warning from NASCAR that the team was potentially in violation of the rules, and that Logano's car had already cleared tech before inspectors called him back after taking parts from Keselowski's car. Logano barely made the start of the race, which Penske said was because of the way NASCAR conducted the inspections.
"He was late because he'd passed inspection, got called back, and we weren't even allowed to work on the car until Brad's car was through inspection," Penske said.
Penske didn't care if the organization was snitched on by another team, dismissing the rumor as "not important."
The appeals process is rarely successful at the first level, and Penske team President Tim Cindric had a chart with him Saturday that indicated there was not a single successful appeal over a body issue in the last three years.
However, Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus successfully challenged NASCAR to National Stock Car Racing chief appellate officer John Middlebrook last year. Knaus was accused of illegally modifying sheet metal on five-time champion Jimmie Johnson's car, and Middlebrook overturned his suspension and reinstated Johnson's points. Middlebrook left intact the $100,000 fine against Knaus.
But Cindric felt the length of probation levied against the Penske team members - they are on probation until the end of the year - was at least double what any other team had received.
"One of the big things, the concern is, is that the penalties are very stiff. They were stiff," Penske said before finding a way to joke about the situation, "They went so deep, now my wife will have to call the races for the 2 car. Or I can bring the guys to the Indianapolis 500 and me and Cindric and my wife can get up on the stands in NASCAR."
Because history indicates the appeal will not likely go Penske's way, he suggested the team is buying time to restructure personnel before the suspensions begin. Cindric stressed the organization will work hard to not disrupt its Nationwide Series programs to find replacements for the Cup teams.
"We have to appeal in order to get all your facts straight and have some time," Penske said. "We'll wait and see what the final verdict is, but in the meantime it's business as usual. This is a speed bump, one I don't like to have, but on the other hand, if we don't like the way they officiate, we don't have to run. Bill France told me that a long time ago.
"In my world, we take the penalty, we appeal it to the best of our ability, we take whatever those results are and move on."
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