Car owner Joe Gibbs isn’t a bit happy about his two NASCAR teams trying to slip something by NASCAR officials at Michigan (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
By Mike Mulhern
Trying to fool NASCAR officials is no laughing matter, as Joe Gibbs’ Nationwide crews have learned. And the veteran NASCAR team owner was appropriately apologetic Wednesday for the stiff penalties the Daytona sanctioning body slapped his teams and drivers with, for trying to hide true engine horsepower from post-race NASCAR chassis dyno inspections after Saturday’s Nationwide race at Michigan.
Drivers Joey Logano and Tony Stewart were both hit with 150-point penalties and placed on probation the rest of the year. Gibbs was also hit with a pair of 150-point penalties. And crew chiefs Dave Rogers and Jason Ratcliff were each fined $50,000 and suspended indefinitely.
NASCAR went a step further and also suspended indefinitely car chief Dorian Thorsen, engine tuner Michael Johnson, and crewman Toby Bigelow from the Logano-Ratcliff team, and suspended indefinitely car chief Richard Bray and engine tuner Dan Bajek from the Stewart-Rogers team.
NASCAR also put both Toyota teams on probation the rest of the season.
Star crew chief Dave Rogers (R), now suspended indefinitely (here after winning at Charlotte with Denny Hamlin) (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
But the controversy didn’t slow Gibbs’ star, Kyle Busch, who Wednesday night won his third NASCAR Truck race of the season. Busch led twice for a race-high 145 of 203 laps in the Billy Ballew Toyota. Toyota swept the top four at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Stewart finished third in the Michigan race, which was won by Ford’s Carl Edward, and Logano finished seventh.
While probation has long been a questionable penalty in NASCAR, and while the point penalties on Logano and Stewart don’t mean that much since both are only running the Nationwide tour part-time, the point penalties on Rogers’ team could be devastating to that team’s bid for a share of the Nationwide series championship.
While Chevy’s Clint Bowyer, though with only one win, leads the tour’s standings, Rogers’ team has dominated the tour with nine wins and 19 top-10s in 25 races. And Ratcliff’s team, running part-time has five wins in its 12 starts.
Rogers left Michigan with 3900 team owner points to second-place Richard Childress’ 3582. So the Rogers team still has a commanding lead.
But Gibbs said he planned even more penalties himself for the men involved, which could well affect that title bid.
Tony Stewart pits during Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide 250 at Michigan. Crew chief Dave Rogers, the hottest crew chief in NASCAR, has been suspended indefinitely for trying to foil NASCAR’s post-race inspection (Photo Credit: Marc Serota/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Gibbs says “the incident it goes against everything we stand for as an organization. “
And he was clearly angry: “First, we want to apologize to NASCAR, all of our partners, all of our families, and all of our fans for the unfortunate incident that took place this past weekend in Michigan with our two Nationwide teams. A poor decision was made by some key members of our organization, and 100 percent of the blame rests with us.
“In 17 years we have never had any representative of Joe Gibbs Racing knowingly act outside of NASCAR’s rules, and that is something we consider essential to how we operate on a daily basis.
“What we have determined is that these individuals involved used extremely poor judgment in attempting to alter the results of NASCAR’s dyno test following Saturday’s Nationwide Series race in Michigan. Although in no way was anything done that might have altered the race outcome, these JGR employees attempted to circumvent the NASCAR rule book and that is unacceptable.
“We take full responsibility and accept the penalties NASCAR has levied against us.
“We had come to the conclusion we would add to any NASCAR imposed penalties with the minimum being suspension for the remainder of the season for those involved, including our two Nationwide Series crew chiefs. There will also be an additional monetary fine beyond the amount announced by NASCAR, which will be the responsibility of those involved.
“We are, however, disappointed NASCAR chose to place our drivers on probation, as they had no knowledge or involvement of this incident.
“The expectations we set for everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing begins with me, and I personally apologize to NASCAR, our partners and our fans for the negative light this situation has cast upon all of us.”
NASCAR said the teams had installed magnets in the throttles to try to foil its post-race engine inspections.
Officially, NASCAR said “both the 18 (driven at Michigan by Joe Logano) and 20 (driven by Tony Stewart) cars were found to be in violation of Sections 12-4-A (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 8-9 (competitive analysis – from time to time, NASCAR may determine, in the interest of competition, that it is necessary or appropriate to undertake an analysis of the performance capabilities of a car, car part, component or equipment.
“The Competitor shall take whatever steps are requested by NASCAR Officials for this purpose.
“NASCAR also has the right to seal or impound cars, car parts, components and/or equipment for this purpose); 12-4-Q (1): (car, car parts, components and/or equipment used that do not conform to NASCAR rules, detailed in Section 20A of the 2008 NASCAR Rule Book, or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the event, or is not required for the normal functional operation of the race car, or has been altered to detract from or compromise its integrity or effectiveness, whether operational or not); 12-4-K: (when NASCAR Officials mandate inspection during the Event, if any car, car parts, components, and/or equipment which have been used in the Event are taken from the racing premises without permission of a NASCAR Official, or are tampered with by any member of the team or anyone associated with the team: Magnetic spacer attached under the gas pedal with the intent of compromising the chassis dynamometer test).”
Rogers and Ratcliff both apologized.
Rogers said he did so “with great remorse for the actions I took after the Michigan race Saturday afternoon.
“My apology is extended to NASCAR, the NASCAR officials, Joe and J.D. Gibbs, our drivers, all of JGR’s sponsors, and especially to all of the JGR family members that I have misrepresented.
“Joe and J.D. Gibbs trust me to lead this race team with honesty and integrity. I have failed them and feel great remorse for doing so. I accept the penalties imposed by NASCAR and Joe Gibbs Racing and make no excuses.”
Ratcliff called his move “poor decision making. “I would like to apologize to the employees and partners of Joe Gibbs Racing. I have failed you as the leader of this team, and I am solely responsible for this situation.
“Secondly, I apologize to the men and women of NASCAR for my dishonesty and interference during a testing event.
“Going forward, I will work hard to regain the trust and respect I once had with the fans, NASCAR and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, including our drivers, who had no knowledge or involvement in this transgression.”
J.D. Gibbs, Joe Gibbs’ son and the man who runs the team, said no one would be fired: “The easy thing would have just been to say ‘You’re gone,’ and we don’t have to worry about it.
“But you’re dealing with two guys who really have been here for a long time. They’ve dedicated a good part of their lives to Joe Gibbs Racing, and they have great character.
“It’s two guys I really feel for. And they are extremely repentant. There’s going to be a penalty hit (set by Joe and J. D. Gibbs, on top of the NASCAR penalties), but right now it’s not going to be a termination.”
Lee White, Toyota’s racing boss, conceded the penalties were harsh but said he still supported the Gibbs operation.
“Over the past several days we have had numerous conversations with Joe and J.D. Gibbs relative to the infractions at Michigan International Speedway in the Nationwide Series post-race inspection,” White said.
“Toyota respects NASCAR’s rules and regulations and accepts the sanctions that were imposed against Joe Gibbs Racing. It is NASCAR’s responsibility to enforce their rules and we respect their decisions.
“Toyota always has, and will continue to, abide by all NASCAR-mandated policies.
“In the 17 years in which JGR has been a NASCAR competitor, this is the first time that a JGR crew chief has ever been suspended. We are encouraged by the manner that Joe and J.D. have taken responsibility and have quickly imposed their own internal sanctions in an aggressive manner, above and beyond the penalties that NASCAR imposed.
“We applaud their response, support their decision and are completely satisfied with their actions in response to this incident. “Joe and J.D., and the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization, have been and will continue to be a great partner to Toyota.”
Agree? Disagree? Don’t just brood. Express yourself here, and make your voice heard clearly in NASCAR headquarters in Daytona and Charlotte and in NASCAR race shops throughout North Carolina and the rest of the country.
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Dave Rogers (R) is the winningest crew chief in NASCAR this season, here with rookie Joey Logano. But now Rogers will be sidelined for a while (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)