A three-member appeals board upheld NASCAR's sweeping penalties against Penske Racing on Wednesday for a failed inspection last month at Texas and team owner Roger Penske vowed to take the ruling to the series' highest level.
The three-member National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel unanimously upheld all penalties levied against the organization, including defending champion Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, over confiscated parts in the rear suspensions of the drivers' Fords. NASCAR chief appellate officer John Middlebrook will hear Penske's final appeal next Tuesday.
"Obviously a disappointing outcome with the panel," Penske said. "We have a good case and we are allowed under the NASCAR rules in the rule book to appeal this to the next level. We've notified NASCAR that we will appeal this ruling today to the next level."
Penske declined to discuss much of the case because the team will argue again Tuesday before Middlebrook. But he has previously said the team was working in a gray area of the rule book when NASCAR confiscated the parts. NASCAR docked both drivers 25 points, fined the two crew chiefs $100,000 each and suspended seven Penske team members.
"It's clear we have a process, and I am better off to wait to see that conclude and at that point I can make any other personal comments I want to make about this," Penske said. "All I can say about the process is that I think it's fair and equitable and we had the opportunity to explain the case and situation in detail and obviously the information we were able to demonstrate to the panel, they determined they would uphold the appeal."
The decision was not surprising. Since NASCAR began keeping records in 1999, the panel has upheld 106 of 150 appeals.
Keselowski seemed to hint he'd already accepted his fate when he tweeted earlier Wednesday from a tire test at Indianapolis: "Inner peace is easily achievable once you realize that sometimes all you can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst. (hashtag)Appeal."
Middlebrook, a former General Motors executive, heard two cases last year. He reduced similar penalties against Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus after the initial appeals board upheld his punishment. Middlebrook lifted the suspension and reinstated Jimmie Johnson's points, but left intact the $100,000 fine NASCAR levied against Knaus for altering sheet metal on the car before inspection at the season-opening Daytona 500.
Middlebrook upheld penalties on Richard Childress Racing for modifications made to Paul Menard's frame rails when they appealed to him last year.
Penske said Wednesday's appeal lasted between four and five hours. It was heard by Paul Brooks, former NASCAR senior vice president and president of NASCAR Media Group; Brandon Igdalsky, president of Pocono Raceway; and Dale Pinilis, operator of Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem.
"We take our inspection process very seriously, we believe we do a strong and credible job with it and the level playing field in the garage is the best it's ever been," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "As the sanctioning body, we've got to uphold the rules and regulations. That's part of our job. The inspection process we believe in very, very strongly."
The three panel members have administrative and operations backgrounds, but were not among the former crew chiefs or car owners on the list of 49 potential people who could have heard the appeal and might have had a better understanding of the inspection process. Tharp said panel members are often picked based on availability.
"A lot of times it's based on being able to get here in the time frame we are looking at," he said. "The people on the panel come from a wide variety of backgrounds and that is a positive for them because they are hearing from experts on both sides, from Penske and NASCAR. They do their best to make an equitable and fair decision."
Presenting the case for NASCAR was Sprint Cup Series director John Darby.
Penske had six people on hand for its presentation, which was headed by the team owner. Also present was senior executive Walt Czarnecki, who is listed as the car owner for Logano, team President Tim Cindric, competition director Travis Geisler and crew chiefs Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon.
Geisler, Wolfe and Gordon are among the seven suspended for the infraction, along with car chiefs Jerry Kelley and Raymond Fox and engineers Brian Wilson and Samuel Stanley. All are suspended six races but were allowed to work at the track while waiting for the appeal to be heard.
Middlebrook will allow them to work this weekend at Talladega while waiting for the next phase of the appeals process.
NASCAR has already scheduled Joe Gibbs Racing's appeal to the three-member board for next Wednesday. JGR is appealing the severity of the penalties levied against Matt Kenseth, crew chief Jason Ratcliff and team owner Joe Gibbs for an illegal part being found inside Kenseth's race-winning engine from Kansas.