JGR crew chiefs 'just messed up'

June, 24, 2011

SONOMA, Calif. -- Many of you asked during Wednesday's ESPN.com chat why the Joe Gibbs Racing crew chiefs weren't suspended for using an unapproved part at Michigan like the crew chiefs for Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were in 2007 when unapproved parts were found on their cars at Infineon Raceway.

You asked why the JGR drivers weren't docked points, as were Johnson and Gordon, who were penalized 100 each.

So I went to Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, for clarification. The explanation is simple: The parts that Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte used in 2007 were fenders that exceeded the governing body's tolerances. They were found illegal going through the inspection process as well as unapproved.

The oil pans on the JGR cars were confiscated because they were unapproved. NASCAR never evaluated them to determine if they are legal because it's not as simple as throwing a template on them.

Plus they haven't been submitted for approval.

Bottom line: You can mess with parts and pieces and maybe get a slap on the wrist. Mess with the tolerances of the chassis or body, which NASCAR technically owns, and you can get the book thrown at you.

"The oil pan we don't own," Pemberton said. "Teams build and design and manufacture parts for competition that have to be brought to us for approval. The bodies they have to be built to spec provided by us."

So why didn't JGR simply send the oil pans to NASCAR for approval after spending a lot of money developing them?

"They just messed up," Pemberton said. "We've got a room full of parts and pieces from everybody, including Gibbs. It's just one of those one-off deals that didn't make it."

Or it could have been that JGR didn't want to tip the competition on to something they thought might provide a competitive advantage.

Either way, Letarte isn't concerned that he and Knaus got a stiffer penalty than the JGR crew chiefs -- Mike Ford, Dave Rogers and Greg Zipadelli -- although Letarte did get asked about it on a radio show earlier in the week.

"I'm just glad it was them in the hauler and not me," he said on Friday at Infineon.

Some of you also asked why Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't penalized for knocking David Ragan into the pit-road wall at Michigan like Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were for their pit-road incident at Darlington.

This one is even simpler: Earnhardt was forced into Ragan by Landon Cassill in the No. 51 car. It wasn't a retaliation or an act of aggression. It really wasn't anything. NASCAR officials weren't even aware it happened.

In case you're wondering, all is good between Hendrick Motorsports teammates Earnhardt and Mark Martin.

Earnhardt initially was upset with Martin after Martin got into him late last week at Michigan and saddled him with a 21st-place finish instead of the top-10 he felt he deserved.

"It's good," Earnhardt said of the relationship. "We handled it after the race and talked a little bit and texted each other back and forth. Everything's cool. In the heat of the moment, things just didn't go my way. I was mad about finishing wherever I think we should finish that way. That's the way it goes."

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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