That was a dream season Matt Kenseth was having.
Fresh off a move to Joe Gibbs Racing after years at Roush Fenway, he had won Sunday for the second time this year, giving JGR’s No. 20 car two wins in eight races — as many as former driver Joey Logano delivered in four years.
A former champion, he had sway in his new garage, top-notch teammates who respected him, and he looked like a great bet for another title run.
But a connecting rod that was found to be a couple grams light after the Kansas win Sunday has resulted in a 50-point penalty and the forfeiture of Chase bonus points for the win and for wild-card purposes, has blemished Kenseth’s Mr. Clean reputation and put a serious dent in his championship hopes.
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He and Joe Gibbs, who can’t earn owners points for six races, are paying the price, but it sounds as though they just got the wrong part at the wrong time.
Toyota Racing Development, which supplies engines for JGR, said it got a bad part from its vendor and that the race team had nothing to do with anything.
“Totally our fault,” TRD president Lee White told The Sporting News. “We’ve never ever, never, not once, discussed going under the minimum weight on con rods. There is no reason to. … If you break a rod, it’s catastrophic. You can’t afford to do that.”
It’s a harsh penalty from NASCAR, which you would think would be within its rights to issue a warning to one of its most respected drivers and an esteemed owner.
But NASCAR has a reputation to protect — that rules are rules, and cheating, intentional or not, has to be discouraged.
Kenseth’s and Gibbs’ reputations ought to survive this problem. But their championship hopes might not.
Takuma Sato, who nearly won the Indianapolis 500 last year, has something to talk about now.
He won the IndyCar Series race at Long Beach on Sunday, news that brought cheers in his home country of Japan.
“We all did banzai when Taku received checkered flag,” said GOARA sports director Keiichi Inamine. The race was broadcast in Japan on GOARA.
Sato is glad the victory brought pride to Japan, noting that many people are still recovering from the earthquakes and tsunami of 2011.
“People are still on the way back; 300,000 people still don’t have a home, have temporary living,” he said. “This hopefully is good news to cheer them up and hopefully, yes, this is just a start, and to bring more IndyCar excitement and enthusiasm to Japanese fans to know it.”