KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When it comes to bending the rules, Richard “The King” Petty, can give some advice as old as NASCAR.
“Don’t get caught,” Petty said, when asked about the swirling controversy involving the penalties assessed to rival Penske Racing’s two Sprint Cup cars last week. “Go as far as you can without getting caught.
“Going all the way back, we got caught on a couple of things at Petty Enterprises… . But look at all the stuff we got by with.”
NASCAR confiscated the rear-end housings and other parts from the Fords of Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano before last weekend’s race at Texas, and on Wednesday announced their crew chiefs had been fined $100,000 each and suspended for six races. Five other Penske crew members also were suspended for six races, and the drivers were each docked 25 points each in the standings.
Penske is appealing the penalties, so the suspensions will not go into effect until after the appeal process is complete. But the points deductions remain in force
Speculation in the garages has run rampant that another race team, perhaps Hendrick Motorsports, turned in Penske before the prerace inspection, though Hendrick driver Jimmie Johnson denied it.
“Undoubtedly somebody told on them,” said Petty, NASCAR’s all-time winner with 200 Sprint Cup victories and seven championships and the owner of Richard Petty Motorsports. “They had been through inspection two or three times and hadn’t been caught.
“Anytime we saw anybody do anything on their car, we didn’t tell (on) them. None of the crowd we worked with told NASCAR what the other guy was doing. They’d go home and look at it and try and do a better job of it. It might not be legal, but if that guy got by with it, we figured it was legal and we could go do it and do a better job.”
Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, has famously pushed the technology envelope and served a suspension in 2006 for rules violations.
Johnson admitted race teams peek into adjacent garages.
“The best officiating in the garage area has always been your neighbor,” Johnson said. “That has been part of NASCAR for years and years. Everybody has people watching. That is why NASCAR has the procedures in place in the garage area, and why even in F1 today they are not allowed to cover their stuff anymore.”
Though both Penske Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports are both Ford teams, Petty said the two don’t share much information other than their engine programs.
“Penske operates as if he had a Dodge,” Petty said. “He builds his own cars and does his whole engineering. Last year (skewing of the rear end) it was a rule they could do it. They were doing it with some rubber deals. Then they come back and say ‘We’re not allowing that anymore.’ I don’t know how Penske interpreted the rules. They appealed, so they feel like they have an argument.
“They took everything, the trailer arms, the sway bar.”
The advancement in technology in both the cars and the way rules are enforced are far different today than during Petty’s racing days.
“It’s so much tougher now, because you got so many different rules,” Petty said, “and (NASCAR) has have a lot more control because they’ve got laser beams … about every dadgum thing you can think of. When something like this happens, it tees them off, because they think they have everything covered.”
While few race teams were surprised Penske was penalized, the severity of the sanctions caught some off-guard.
“It kind of surprised me they went that deep into the team,” Petty said. “We’ve seen before where they suspended the crew chief, and it didn’t really make a lot of difference because all the people who were doing the work were already there.
“This way they went all the way to the bone, so it really hurt the team when you go to the crew chief, the car chief, the engineers… . It looked pretty serious.”
Besides the Penske teams, Michael Waltrip Racing was censured, too, last week when NASCAR found the Toyota driven to a second-place finish at Texas by Martin Truex Jr. failed the minimum front-car height in post-race inspection. Crew chief Chad Johnston was fined $25,000 and placed on probation until June 5 while Truex was docked six points in the standings. Waltrip said it would not appeal the penalties
Truex’s teammate, Clint Bowyer is familiar with NASCAR’s wrath. While driving for Richard Childress Racing in 2010, Bowyer was knocked from Chase for the Sprint Cup contention when he was docked 150 points and his then-crew chief, Shane Wilson was fined $150,000 and suspended six weeks following a win at New Hampshire.
Bowyer didn’t feel sorry for Keselowski or Logano.
“Mine was off like 60 thousands of an inch, and it was a frame rail,” Bowyer said. “I don’t see how that was blatant and would change a significant amount of anything as would a moving rear end. It’s pretty helpful when those things are skewed out we’ve learned, and if we could possibly get those skewed out any farther, than life is pretty happy.”