- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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Matt Kenseth says the penalties NASCAR levied against his Sprint Cup team and Joe Gibbs Racing were "grossly unfair'" and "borderline shameful."
Kenseth was penalized 50 points in the standings Wednesday, and his crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, was suspended for six races and fined $200,000 because a connecting rod in the engine of his Toyota weighed 2.7 grams under the minimum requirement following Sunday's win at Kansas Speedway.
The 2003 Sprint Cup champion, Kenseth also lost the three bonus points he earned for the win that would have been applied in seeding for the Chase for the championship. His pole, which would have made him eligible for the 2014 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway, also was rescinded.
What upset Kenseth the most was the severity of the penalty for Ratcliff and his car owner. Joe Gibbs had his owner's license suspended for the next six races. That means Gibbs won't earn car owner points during that time for a mistake that Toyota Racing Development, which makes the engines for JGR, took full responsibility for.
"I can't get my arms around that," Kenseth said Thursday during a news conference at Richmond International Raceway. "I couldn't feel any worse. There's no more reputable, honorable, hardworking guy than them two."
Kenseth said anybody in the garage with an unbiased and reputable opinion would say that the part in question did not provide him with a competitive advantage. He said the average weight of all eight connecting rods was "well over" the minimum.
"I just think that the penalty is way over the top for that," he said. "It wasn't anything trying to gain an advantage. It wasn't an advantage -- it was a mistake. That should have been taken into account."
TRD president Lee White said the illegal part was a "total screw-up on our part." He said the piece supplied by a European vendor slipped through TRD quality control and that JGR or Ratcliff had no way of knowing it was on the car.
White said the magnetic steel part, which connects the piston and crankshaft, had a required minimum of 525 grams.
"One part came in 2.7 grams underweight, and somehow made it through our processes and ended up unfortunately in an engine that was selected to be weighed," White told ESPN.com. "That's totally on me."
But according to NASCAR rules, the team ultimately is held responsible.
"It was a very bad mistake," Kenseth said. "A very dumb mistake. Unfortunately, we're in this spot, but we are. We'll see what happens moving forward."
JGR plans to appeal the penalty. Kenseth said the hope is that it is at least reduced.
"We'll just go through that and see what happens," he said. "Whatever the final verdict is we'll have to live with that and move on."
Kenseth dropped from eighth in the standings to tied with Jeff Gordon in 14th place. Ratcliff's suspension will be put on hold pending the appeal.
Kenseth acknowledged that the penalty, if upheld, will make it tougher to make the Chase. He also said the penalty will make him and his team more determined.
"Honestly, I feel I have the strongest race team in the garage," he said. "If anyone can come back from it and get us in a spot to win the championship, it's my group."
But Kenseth reiterated he feels worse for Gibbs than anyone.
"The penalty to Coach [Gibbs], because of something he knew nothing about and it is not a performance advantage, to say he cannot win the owner's championship for a guy that has been this big of a supporter to NASCAR the past 22 years, man, that's a tough one to figure out," he said.
Kenseth was visibly upset throughout the news conference streamed live on NASCAR.com. Although he was in Richmond a day early to drive in Thursday night's Late Model charity event in place of injured teammate Denny Hamlin, his focus was on his Cup team.
He called his excitement level for the Late Model race an "all-time low."
"By tomorrow morning, we're going to be ready," Kenseth said of Friday's first practice for Saturday night's Cup race. "If it's possible, I think we're motivated and determined more than ever."
2dK. Lee Davis