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Team Penske loses final appeal for penalty to Brad Keselowski’s team

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CONCORD, N.C. — Team Penske lost its final appeal hearing Tuesday morning over the March 19 penalty to Brad Keselowski’s team, and crew chief Paul Wolfe will have to miss this weekend’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway as part of his three-race suspension.

This will be the last race Wolfe will miss. He previously sat out races at Auto Club Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

NASCAR penalized Team Penske, Wolfe and Keselowski after the No. 2 Ford failed weights and measurements on the Laser Inspection Station following the March 19 race at Phoenix Raceway. NASCAR docked Keselowski and the team 35 points, suspended Wolfe for three races and fined him $65,000.

Car owner Roger Penske was present at Tuesday’s hearing at the NASCAR R&D Center. Among those with him included Travis Geisler, competition director at Team Penske. NASCAR was represented by Chad Little, managing director of technical inspection and officiating.

Penske had said said after Keselowski’s win at Martinsville that the team was challenging the consistency of NASCAR procedures. The team is claiming that it received only one attempt to pass the post-race inspection at the LIS platform while others have gotten multiple attempts.

“We are disappointed in the outcome of today’s final appeal hearing,” a Team Penske statement read. “While we appreciate the process that NASCAR and the National Motorsports Appeals Panel has put in place to resolve issues like this, we felt like the penalties received following the March event at Phoenix were unjust. Brian Wilson will once again serve as Brad Keselowski’s crew chief this weekend at Kansas Speedway. We’re happy to finally have this behind us as the No. 2 team focuses its efforts on another Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship.”

Tuesday’s decision was made by Roger Werner, chairman for the Automobile Competition Committee for the United States (ACCUS), the national authority of the FIA for the United States. The Automobile Competition Committee of the U.S. includes the six major motorsports sanctioning organizations in the U.S.: IMSA, IndyCar, NASCAR, NHRA, SCCA and USAC.

Werner served in place of Bryan Moss, the Final Appeals Officer, who was unavailable.

This hearing was to have been held April 25, but was pushed back to April 26 when the Bristol race was delayed a day by rain to April 24. The April 26 hearing was rescheduled again because Moss was sick.

Kansas marks the second consecutive weekend that both Penske Cup teams will be without both crew chiefs. Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, will sit out this weekend as the final race of his two-race suspension for a rear suspension not properly in place. The infraction was discovered after Logano won the April 30 race at Richmond International Raceway.

National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer Statement

 May 9, 2017

Today the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer, Mr. Roger Werner, heard and considered the appeal of an L1-level penalty issued on March 22 to Paul Wolfe (crew chief), Team Penske (owner) and Brad Keselowski (driver), relative to the No. 2 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team at Phoenix International Raceway.

The penalty concerns the following sections in the 2017 NASCAR Rule Book: Sections 20.17.3.1.2 Post-Race General Inspection Measurements.

The original penalty assessed: Wolfe was fined $65,000 and suspended for three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points events; Team Penske was assessed with the loss of 35 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series owner points; Keselowski was assessed with the loss of 35 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver points; and the race finish was encumbered.

Upon hearing the appeal, the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer made the following decisions:

1. The Appellants violated the Rules set forth in the Penalty Notice;

2. That the decision of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel upholding the original Penalty that was issued by NASCAR is affirmed and upheld.

The decision of the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer is final.

PENSKE PENALTY TIMELINE

  • March 19: NASCAR announces Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford failed “weights and measurements” on the Laser Inspection Station after the race at Phoenix Raceway.
  • March 22: NASCAR docks team/driver 35 points, suspends Paul Wolfe 3 races, fines $65,000. Penske says it is weighing whether to appeal while evaluating the area of the car (which had arrived back from Phoenix that day).
  • March 25: Fontana weekend begins with Wolfe sitting out in favor of Brian Wilson.
  • March 29: Penske announces it will appeal penalty, and NASCAR grants a deferment to allow Wolfe on the pit box for Martinsville Speedway.
  • April 2: Keselowski wins at Martinsville with Wolfe as crew chief. In the team’s first expansive comments, Roger Penske tells Marty Snider his Phoenix appeal is on the grounds of consistency and fairness by NASCAR.
  • April 6: A week after the Penske appeal filing, NASCAR sets a hearing date of April 12, which means Wolfe remains atop the pit box that weekend at Texas, where Keselowski is sixth.
  • April 12: Penske loses its appeal before the National Motorsports Appeals Panel of Rick Crawford, Hunter Nickell and Dale Pinilis. The team announces that it will take the case to Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss.
  • April 17: After a weekend off for Easter, NASCAR schedules the final appeal for Tuesday, April 25. Penske is granted further deferment of Wolfe’s suspense at Bristol, where Keselowski finishes 34th.
  • April 24: After the race at Bristol is postponed a day by rain, the final appeal is rescheduled from the morning of Tuesday, April 25 to the evening of Wednesday, April 26.
  • April 26: Because of an illness to Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss, the final appeal hearing is rescheduled to 7:45 a.m. on May 9 – after the races at Richmond and Talladega. Penske elects to bring Wolfe to Richmond, where Keselowski leads 110 laps and finishes second.
  • May 2: Penske asks to end Wolfe’s deferment and bring Brian Wilson as interim crew chief to Talladega ahead of the May 9 hearing. NASCAR grants the request.
  • May 9: Final Appeals Officer Roger Werner rules that Team Penske violated the rules and upholds the original penalty.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. credits Jimmie Johnson for top 10; congratulates Austin Dillon for Coke 600 win

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CONCORD, N.C. – On the night the number synonymous with his legendary father returned to victory lane, Dale Earnhardt Jr. found some consolation in his final Coca-Cola 600.

Earnhardt placed 10th in the circuit’s longest race, his best showing since a fifth in the April 9 race at Texas Motor Speedway. He improved a spot to 23rd in the points standings after a dismal showing by his No. 88 Chevrolet in last week’s All-Star Race.

“The car got better last couple of runs,” Earnhardt said. “We made a lot of changes, and some of them (were) working pretty good.  We would have liked to have run a little bit better than that for sure.  We think we should be running in the top five every week as a team, so that is still not really good enough, but compared to last week it’s a huge improvement.”

Earnhardt credited some of the improvement to teammate Jimmie Johnson, who finished 17th after his No. 48 Chevy ran out of fuel while leading with two laps remaining.

“He was communicating with me all week, calling me, talking on the phone,” Earnhardt said. “He would come across the garage and get in my window even during practice.  Get out of his car and come talk to me.  What a great teammate. I hated to see him run out of gas.”

But he was happy to see the win by Austin Dillon in the No. 3 Chevrolet that was driven by his father. Richard Childress Racing sidelined the number from February 2001-14 after the seven-time champion’s death on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

“Congratulations to Austin, man, that is awesome for RCR and Richard,” Earnhardt said. “Anytime they can win, it’s pretty cool.”

Earnhardt will get one more shot to win at Charlotte. In 34 starts at the 1.5-mile oval, he has a career-best third in the 2015 Coca-Cola 600.

Martin Truex Jr.: VHT ‘a huge factor’ in Coca-Cola 600 — but wouldn’t work as well elsewhere

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CONCORD, N.C. — Though the rain paid a visit to the Coca-Cola 600, the traction agent applied high in the corners of Charlotte Motor Speedway was a “huge factor” in NASCAR’s longest race, according to Martin Truex Jr.

Truex, who led a race high 233 laps, lauded the VHT chemical used to improve racing at the 1.5-mile track after a dud of an All-Star Race.

“I think last weekend the middle groove, middle to high middle, was nonexistent,” Truex said after finishing third early Monday morning. “It was the slickest part of the racetrack.”

But that changed Sunday. Following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, NASCAR and the track reapplied refresh coats of VHT to the upper grooves in the turns after consulting drivers and crew chiefs. Even after a downpour swept over the track on Lap 143, Truex said the traction compound was a factor for 375 of the race’s 400 laps.

“It was the main groove,” Truex said of the higher grooves. “Where typically there is the least grip (there) on this racetrack, it was the most tonight. It definitely played a factor. It changed the race quite a bit. I think the downforce rules this year changed it quite a bit as well. The bottom of the racetrack is so bumpy and so slick, I’m telling you after 10 laps it’s all you can do to make laps without crashing down there.

“It definitely changed the race tonight. It made it a lot of fun. I thought it was a good addition.”

Winner Austin Dillon thought the VHT – also known as PJ1 TrackBite – benefited the race. But the Richard Childress Racing drive would like to see a change in where the agent is applied to the track surface.

“The middle groove had a lot of speed, took away from the bottom,” Dillon said. That’s usually dominant here. The bottom got good again. After the rain, the bottom was pretty dominant. As the race went on, I could actually see the VHT leaving the track. It was getting clean higher and higher.

“We’ve got something there as far as trying it. It’s not a bad thing. I really think we should try it more often. I think the next thing you look into is the placement of it. I feel like we needed more on the very top because the middle was really dominant, but you couldn’t really get into the top of it like you needed to. That would be my next shot at it. It’s not a bad thing at all. I like it.”

What’s next?

The chemical has been used on the concrete high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway and the asphalt of Charlotte and been mostly praised.

Should it be tried at any other tracks on the NASCAR circuit?

“I don’t think so,” Truex said. “I think this track is so unique, the pavement here, the geometry of the racetrack, the bumps that are in it. It’s almost got a concrete feel the way the bumps are. They’re really, really small, high‑frequency bumps, almost like a washboard, kind of the feeling you get at Dover (International Speedway). Most asphalt tracks are not bumpy that way. They’re more of a swell. The car kind of goes through swells, a place like (Chicagoland Speedway) or Atlanta (Motor Speedway).

“It’s very, very different here. The pavement is different than anywhere we go. The bumps in the racetrack are way different than anywhere we go. I think both of those things kind of contribute to us needing to do some different things here to change-up the racing.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends Kyle Busch’s surly mood after the Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. – A second-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 left Kyle Busch in an irate mood, which is perfectly fine, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A seemingly agitated Busch, cupping his face in his hands after sitting down, entered the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway Center shortly after 12:30 a.m. Sunday. It was roughly 10 minutes after Austin Dillon scored the first victory of his career in NASCAR’s premier series by stretching his final tank of fuel for 70 laps.

Was Busch surprised that Dillon made the checkered flag? What did it mean for a driver to get his first win?

“I’m not surprised about anything,” Busch snapped. “Congratulations.”

He dropped the mic on the dais. There were no further questions. (The video is available above).

Shortly afterward on Twitter, Earnhardt took up for his peer (whom he replaced at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008).

Busch, who hasn’t won since last July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (a span of 28 races) gave more elaborate answers shortly after exiting his No. 18 Toyota, which finished 0.835 seconds behind Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet.

He apparently didn’t realize until late in the race that his pass of Martin Truex Jr. (who led a race-high 233 laps) with a lap remaining was for second instead of the victory.

“This M&M’s Camry was awesome tonight,” Busch said. “It was just super fast. I mean we had one of the fastest cars all night long and then (Truex) was probably the fastest. There at the end, somehow we ran him down. You know he got a straightaway out on us, but there that last 100 laps we were able to get back to him and pass him so you know that was promising for us there at the end in order to get a second-place finish, but man just so, so disappointed.

“I don’t know. We ran our own race. We did what we needed to do and it wasn’t – it wasn’t the right game. We come up short and finish second.

“It’s a frustrating night, man. There’s nothing we could’ve done different.”

Others took a different view of Busch’s tirade.

But some agreed with Earnhardt’s stance.

After defending Busch, Earnhardt also poked some fun at him later Monday, too.

 

Martin Truex Jr. takes Cup points lead after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. took over the Cup points lead with a third-place finish in Saturday’s Coca-Cola 600.

The Furniture Row Racing driver, who led a race-high 233 laps, also extended his lead in the playoff standings by winning the second stage and bringing his total to 16 points.

Kyle Larson, who had led the standings for eight consecutive races since Phoenix International Raceway, fell to second in the rankings after crashing and finishing a season-worst 33rd. Larson trails Truex by five points in the race for the regular-season championship (and 15 playoff points).

Click here for the points standings after Charlotte.