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Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Updated: April 25, 11:49 AM ET
Matt Kenseth & Co. pay steep price

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

Who would have thought one week ago that NASCAR would throw down a penalty so shocking it made the Penske trip to the woodshed look like a comparative slap on the wrist?

Welcome to the Draconian Twilight Zone era of crime and punishment in NASCAR. It's "Les Miserables 2.0," a place even Jean Valjean might find tougher than 19th-century French justice.

In an unprecedented decision, NASCAR officials have pummeled Matt Kenseth, the No. 20 team and Joe Gibbs Racing over a seemingly minor engine violation. Note: In NASCAR's eyes, there's no such thing as a minor engine violation.

The record book still will say Kenseth won on Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Everything else about it will say he didn't. NASCAR doesn't take away victories because it wants the fans to leave the speedway knowing who won the race.

However, in reality, NASCAR has taken this win from Kenseth. He loses 50 championship points. That's more than a driver can earn for winning a race. He also loses the bonus points for his Kansas victory and can't use that win toward earning a possible wild-card spot in the Chase.

Crew chief Jason Ratcliff is fined $200,000 (twice what the Penske crew chiefs were fined last week for the rear-end housing violation on the No. 2 and No. 22 Fords) and suspended for six races.

All of that because one connecting rod was less than three grams too light when NASCAR officials did the engine teardown back in North Carolina.

Folks, I'm no engine expert. If my lawnmower motor has issues, I take it to the local fix-it shop. But everything I'm told by the experts is three grams' difference on one rod is no competitive advantage.

Yes, the 20 car sure looked like it had a competitive advantage Sunday, clearly the fastest hot rod (no pun intended) in the field on every restart. But it didn't happen because of that rod.

I looked it up. There are 28.3 grams in one ounce, so that's a little more than one-tenth of an ounce too light.

And these engines are built by Toyota Racing Development, not JGR. It's unlikely Ratcliff knew anything about the rods. The crew chiefs at Penske had to know about the changes to the rear-end housing.

TRD officials have taken full responsibility for the mistake. TRD president Lee White called it "a screw-up." It probably was just one bad part.

None of that matters. Any engine violation, no matter how slight, always has been viewed as a capital offense by NASCAR. Do not mess with the motor. Everyone in the sport knows it.

Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth dropped from eighth to 14th in the Sprint Cup standings after a 50-point penalty levied by NASCAR.

Regardless of intent, get caught with an unapproved engine part and you are going down. But JGR and Kenseth possibly have paid a price more severe than any championship-contending team in NASCAR history.

Kenseth falls from eighth to 14th in the Sprint Cup standings. Two victories might have locked him into the Chase no matter what he did the rest of the regular season. Having only one victory count makes it more difficult.

However, Kenseth still would make the playoff if it started today since he's the only driver at the moment who ranks outside the top 10 and has a victory.

These are scary times for all NASCAR teams. At this point, everyone in the garage must be walking on eggshells, wondering where the ax will fall next.

The past seven days have seen a flurry of punishment that makes NASCAR look like medieval England. Better check and make sure there are no guillotines in the NASCAR hauler.

Four Cup teams and two Camping World Truck teams have experienced NASCAR's wrath over the past week. It looked like things couldn't get worse than the Penske cars getting docked 25 points each, losing its entire brain trust for six races, and suffering a $100,000 fine for each team.

Three other team penalties, including one Wednesday to CWTS driver Johnny Sauter, were overshadowed by the two majors, so to speak, but they were painful none the less.

Sauter was the points leader. Now he's second, 13 points behind teammate Matt Crafton, due to a fuel-cell violation on Sauter's truck. Joel Shear, his crew chief, is suspended for four races.

Cup driver Martin Truex Jr. lost six points when his car was too low on postrace inspection at Texas, and CWTS veteran Ron Hornaday Jr. lost 25 points for intentionally wrecking Darrell Wallace Jr. under caution at Rockingham.

Total it up and here's what you get:

• $460,000 in fines
• 156 drivers points docked
• Nine people suspended

Appeals could change some of this, but don't expect any landmark reversals. NASCAR has reached a new level of intolerance.

And, please, no one steal any bread from behind a hauler this weekend at Richmond. Inspector Javert (disguised as a NASCAR official) is watching, and he means business.