NASCAR defends ridiculous penalties against Matt Kenseth
THE MODERATOR: We thought it would be a good opportunity for everyone to hear from our Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton. Robin will make a few general comments and then we'll open it up for questions. Robin, go ahead.
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ROBIN PEMBERTON: Thanks to everybody for being here and for having me. Over the last two or three weeks as everybody knows, we've had some significant penalties and they're in all areas of the rule book. We're here to not judge these penalties, whether they are performance enhancing, but we're really here just to regulate the rule book.
We've got the rules in play. They're put there a lot of times by NASCAR, but with input from the teams, manufacturers and outside experts, and it's our job to manage those rules and manage that rule book as it relates to the garage area. The emphasis, as everyone knows, it's about safety, it's about competition, and it's about cost-containment.
So moving forward it's our job to just regulate the rule book. In the rule book there are different facets and we've put parameters in that are weights, measures, heights, dimensions coordinates to build chassis and bodies, and it's in quite detail. So the teams know where they can and can't go, and there are areas that they can work in. Those are the areas between the measurements where we do give both ends of it, whether it's high or low or heavy or light.
That being said, it's like I said, we're not here to judge the performance on any of these. We are strictly here to regulate the rule book and keep a level playing field for the garage area in which to work and make sure everybody gets a fair chance at competing.
Q. Yesterday Matt Kenseth said that the penalties on his team were borderline shameful in severity. Can you talk in general about the severity of the penalties that came down for that team?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, as everyone knows there are a few things that are understood in the garage area that are big. When you talk about engines, you talk about tires, and you talk about fuel. That's a common thread that's been understood, and it's stood the test of time for the last 65 years. Don't mess with those areas, and the penalties are severe.
But when you look in the case of an engine, the only time we really get a chance to look internally at an engine is post-race. Some of our most severe penalties over time have surrounded engine infractions.
Q. Two different questions. The first one, you regulate the rule book. Why doesn't the rule book have defined penalties so that everybody knows what it will be? And NASCAR isn't opening themselves up to the backlash or the outrage of they were harder on this team than they were on that team? I'll let you get that out.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, it's tough to have a definition. We feel like we're consistent, but not every violation is exactly the same. So we do our best, and we feel like we do a good job at interpreting those infractions and levying the penalties that they deserve, and that's really as far as I can go with that.
Q. Second question is sort of off the same thing that Matt said, that he felt they were grossly unfair. If this is a manufacturer thing and everybody's in agreement that the engine shows up and Joe Gibbs Racing can't touch it, why not penalize the manufacturer harsher than the team?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: And that's tough too. Because when you look at, in their particular situation, we probably don't know all the details, but we do know they come from an outside vendor for the most part, and I don't know how you would go-- it's very difficult to go to an outside vendor and penalize them whether it's springs or shocks or parts that are bought and bolted on race cars. That's why in today's world we all know and relate to the fact that it stops at the crew chief and stops at the owner and stops at the organization that is here to compete.
Q. Along the same lines, as the sport evolves and third parties become a bigger part of the sport, do you think NASCAR will possibly look at how to deal with penalties and infractions when there is a third party who is not only involved but taken complete blame for the situation?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: The rule book evolves. As everyone has seen over the course of time, it started with a one-sheeter 65 years ago, and now Lord only knows how big it is. Moving forward we'll look at different things. As the landscape changes out there, we'll have to evaluate and look at different things.
But today is today, and everyone knows how we deal with things. The future, you know, you never know what it will hold.
Q. Last year you guys issued severe penalties in terms of the 48 team. Most of those penalties were rescinded upon the appeal process. Obviously, as you talk about stepping up and increasing penalties was there anything you learned from that situation? Because obviously you guys tried to, in essence, send a message, and then the appeal process seemed to send another message. Because, obviously, you feel strongly about what you guys have done, how do you insure that these penalties survive the appeal process? Last year you guys did the same thing, and on face it was like you got slapped back.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, everybody focuses on the 48 team, but that's not the one penalty we had last year. The 27 car and it was held up and there's not one part of that that got turned over.
We know what's ahead of us. We know where we need to go with the penalties. We know what's serious. We know what grade some of these penalties are, and we level the penalties and we feel like we're consistent when we do that. So we will keep doing that until we see a reason to do that in a different way. It may not be less, and it may be more. You never know. It may be more, but we feel like these are pretty severe.
Q. Two of the big topics yesterday were why the owner penalty to Gibbs? I guess, for freezing of the owner points. And also, maybe some of the stars of the sport are now being labeled at cheaters for either trying to operate in a gray area or from a mistake from a manufacturer. And is there a concern that these penalties are labeling your top stars as cheaters.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: It's a part that didn't meet spec. It's not a gray area. There are numbers in the books. If you look at numbers in the books and what's going on in the garage area and across our national series those numbers for a connecting rod have been in the book since around the time we went to a single-engine rule, which is probably 12 years ago.
So you take that and the amount of engines and engine components in the garage area, and then every given weekend it's done right the vast majority of the time.
As it relates to a car owner being suspended when you look at engine penalties they're severe for a reason. We don't take lightly somebody being out of bounds when it comes to an engine or an engine situation. That's why the penalties sit where they do.
Q. You said several times that you guys don't judge intent?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: What's that?
Q. You don't judge intent, and the rules are the rules.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Not intent; we don't judge the performance.
Q. But why not? What is the reason behind that?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: It's hard to-- it's not hard, but what you have to understand is there's reasons that there are rules. There are reasons that there are defined numbers, okay? They're not there-- we didn't just dream numbers up. We work with the teams, we work with manufacturers, and we work with outside experts to get these parameters. They know. When you look at the rule book, you say, oh, I can't be here. I have to be there, right.
To some sort of analogy, right, if you look at pit road speed, right? Everybody wanted it to go automated, so it did. When a guy that comes down pit road in a certain position and he leaves in a certain position, but during that time he exceeds pit road speed by 6 miles-an-hour and didn't gain any position, he still exceeded what we put in for a parameter for a speed. He gets a penalty.
I don't want to be so cold about it, but that's just the way it is. That's why you have these parameters put into play. They know ahead of time where they're supposed to be.
Q. But would you even want to go down the road of trying to judge people's intent? Like there's been so much talk this week about being an honest mistake or not performance enhancing. Would that even be a worse job from NASCAR's perspective of trying to judge that for each and every penalty? Because if you did it for one, you'd have to do it for another.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: You could probably answer your own question. Everybody's asked the same thing. Why aren't things more black and white? It's too light. It's too heavy. It's too wide. It's too high. It's too low. It's black and white. And we can't judge the performance because some guys do a better job of it than others quite frankly.
Q. And a quick follow-up. Joe Gibbs' owners license was suspended, but he can still be at the track. What is the differential there?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, right now it's under appeal.
Q. Is that the same thing? Did he lose his right to come to the track is what I'm trying to say. I didn't quite understand the penalty.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I have to go look it up again. When you're suspended from NASCAR, you lose certain rights. But Joe owns Nationwide cars and other things that are here. So like I said, there is so much that's happened this week, and I know the answer, but right now I can't recall the answer.
Q. You had Kyle Busch sanctioned the week before, am I correct, after he won at Texas? Was there anything you saw in his engine that might have been a trend or something that made you want to look at this?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Not really. I mean, we inspect engines. There are some Tuesdays that we have 10, 11, 12 engines torn apart at R & D from all of our national series. That's the beauty of the random. We impound. We take winners. We take guys that are throughout the field and tear them apart. That's what we do. But this is the first that we've seen anything like this.
Q. Obviously, competition and marketing are two different departments. But are you concerned that sponsors will question what their involvement is going forward if things of this nature keep popping up with your top teams?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, I and our group are concerned about level playing field. If you're worried about your sponsors and other things, then you have to do the right things by that. That's why we hand the rule book out. It's our job, as cold as you can be, there is a rule book. Here you are. And we have to look at it that way, and as emotional as you want to get because we're all one group that travels around the country every day, they know ahead of time where they're supposed to be.
I'm sure there are sponsors that are happier sometimes than others, but we cannot let that weigh in on what we do for a penalty. We cannot. It's about wins and losses and fairness?
Q. Correct me if I'm wrong, but most of the parts and pieces that are used, the manufacturers must submit them for approval from NASCAR before teams can utilize them. In that case, if a manufacturer then after approval supplies something that does not meet the regulations, are they not or can they not be penalized in some manner?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Are you talking about engine parts or chassis parts or body? Which area are you talking about? Because the engine parts have to meet certain dimensions, right? So we, whether it's magnetic, steel, certain weights, those types of things. And we allow a lot of latitude there for components, as long as they meet the spec. And they will bring to us parts and pieces over time and we will give them the thumbs up or thumbs down.
So because you approve piece A in a certain configuration, if in some way, shape or form during the manufacturer process and it misses its tolerance, that's just part of their quality control that they have to go through whether it is an engine piece or a chassis piece or anything else that lies in the rule book.
Q. So if they have an engine piece that does not meet the requirements, there is not an-- and a team uses it, there is not a penalty for the manufacturer for providing it?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: At this time we will not and cannot penalize vendors. We'd be in it all day long, whether it was a shock that went bad, a spring that collapsed that caused the car low or any of those things. You can concentrate right now on a certain area, because right now it's the height and awareness around an engine part. But when you go down that road, there are a million pieces on these cars, and so we choose to go down the path that it's the team's responsibility for quality control, and check on the parts and pieces that they bring and compete with at the racetrack.
Q. Robin, in a situation where you have an infraction this big, do you consider suspending the driver also or are driver suspensions typically just for on-track situations?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: At this point in time for a mechanical infraction like this, we haven't considered anything against the driver.
Q. First, just about procedure. When you take an engine back to the R & D Center to inspect it, do you normally inspect every cylinder, weigh all the connecting rods, or is it more of a spot-check process, and then if you find something, you look further?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: There is a randomness to it. They'll go in in the morning and put on the board which cylinder they're going to tear apart and that changes every week. Then if they feel the need that they need to go deeper into it, they do different things, but they'll measure rods and pistons and all of that stuff one week, and take the crankshafts out another week. Another week they may strip the whole engine down and weigh what the block is. So there is a sense of randomness that we do things, and it's served us well.
Moving forward is there a need that we may have to expand that randomness and take more things into account instead of every few weeks or so, then we look at that. It's like everything else we do. We'll have to-- we can react or we can adjust our procedures post race because of that.
When you look back at it, we've been -- for so many years the post-race inspection was done at the racetrack, and it's really served us well to take things back, put it in a nice, sterile environment where we can get proper measurements and things like that and do more of it on a week to week basis on Tuesdays, generally.
Q. Back in 2007 when the COT was introduced, NASCAR made it clear there were certain areas they didn't want teams working in, and penalties got pretty severe. I'm thinking of the 24, 48 at Sonoma and things like that. Does the fact that we're introducing a new car this year, the Gen-6, does that affect the climate in terms of severity of penalties at all?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: No, I don't think so. I think this stuff falls right in line. One of the things that's out there with the new car because of the amount of detail that's in this car with the manufacturers, we've taken it upon ourselves to regulate the bodies and the shapes and the sizes and all of that, not just for ourselves and not just for the level playing field, but to protect the IP of the manufacturers that have spent millions and millions of dollars to get this stuff right. To the extent that this year many times we do white light scans of the body surfaces and compare them to the CAD data to make sure that we're keeping everybody in check.
So that's an added thing for this year because of the Gen-6. But as far as the other penalties go, we feel like we've been in line. Even though in the last couple of weeks it looks a little odd because you'll run through these cycles where you have this happen, and you may go ten months and not get another penalty. I don't feel like we've changed anything just because it's a Gen-6 car.