By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
As anticipated, the penalties announced to Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 and No. 20 Nationwide Series teams Wednesday by NASCAR were severe indeed.
Finding that the two JGR teams had attempted to manipulate chassis dynamometer horsepower readings after Saturday’s Carfax 250 Nationwide Series race at Michigan International Speedway, NASCAR suspended seven members of the Gibbs organization indefinitely, including Dave Rogers, crew chief of the No. 20 Toyota driven by Tony Stewart, and Jason Ratcliff, crew chief of the No. 18 Toyota driven by Joey Logano.
Stewart and Logano were docked 150 Nationwide driver championship points each — a moot penalty, because neither is competing for the series championship — but Stewart and Logano were placed on probation through the end of the season. Joe Gibbs, who owns both cars, was docked 150 car owner points for each entry.
NASCAR slapped Rogers and Ratcliff each with $50,000 fines and imposed indefinite suspensions on car chiefs Dorian Thorsen (No. 18) and Richard Bray (No. 20), engine tuners Michael Johnson (No. 18) and Dan Bajek (No. 20) and crew member Toby Bigelow (No. 18). Both teams will remain on probation through Dec. 31.
During dyno testing after Saturday’s race, NASCAR discovered magnetic shims placed behind the throttle pedals of both Gibbs cars, a move designed to prevent the pedals from being fully depressed and thereby reducing the peak horsepower readings from the two engines.
In late July, NASCAR had instituted an engine rule change designed to bring Toyota’s power more in line with that of other manufacturers’. Before the rule change was made, Toyota’s horsepower had measured consistently higher than that of the other car makes during prior dyno testing.
After the shims were removed at Michigan, the peak number of the Gibbs’ Toyotas (640 horsepower) was still higher than that of the Chevrolets (636), Fords (634) and Dodges (632).
In a statement released Wednesday, Gibbs apologized profusely for the violations and said he would add to the penalties imposed by NASCAR.
“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,” Gibbs said. “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 today. We had come to the conclusion that 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 earlier today, which will be the responsibility of those involved.
“We are, however, disappointed that NASCAR chose to place our drivers on probation, as they had no knowledge or involvement of this incident.”
Though Chevrolet driver Brad Keselowski admitted he might have been tempted to do what the Gibbs teams did under similar circumstances, he viewed their actions as far worse than trying to cheat in a single race.
“They attempted to cheat in the next two seasons by doing what they did in that dyno test,” Keselowski said Tuesday. “It’s worse than cheating in that one race. They attempted to cheat for the next whatever session that was going to be before the next dyno session, before NASCAR could prove it.
“I almost wish they were just cheating in that one race, because I would have felt better about it. But what they attempted to do was cheat us for the rest of the season, all the way up to probably Atlanta of next year, before another dyno test was done. That’s what makes it even worse.”
The owner-point penalty to the No. 20 car, which tops the Nationwide standings, reduced its lead from 318 points to 168 over the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet driven by Clint Bowyer. Stewart, Logano, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have combined to win nine races in the No. 20, and Gibbs cars have won 14 of 25 Nationwide races this year.
Note: NASCAR also announced a Sprint Cup Series penalty Wednesday: a $25,000 fine levied against Donnie Wingo, crew chief of the No. 41 Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge driven by Reed Sorenson, for improperly attached weight. The violation was discovered after Sunday’s 3M Performance 400 at Michigan.