Brad Keselowski headed into the 2013 race season as the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Of course, he’ll be reigning champion until the new champion is crowned come November. But is Penske Racing penalizing its driver out of a chance to defend his crown? Of course, I’m sure that’s not the intent of anyone within the Penske organization, but that looks to be the case.
On Tuesday, NASCAR levied, yet another, penalty on Penske Racing’s No. 2 team after the car failed post-race inspection at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Sunday. The car failed inspection, because it was too low. As a result, crew chief Paul Wolfe was fined $25,000 and both Keselowski and car owner Roger Penske were docked 25 points.
That makes for a total of 31 points that Keselowski has lost to penalties this year. The other 25 points were lost following the April race at Texas Motor Speedway. At Texas, the No. 2 and the No. 22 car driven by Joey Logano, also a Penske Racing entry, had an issue with their rear ends on opening day inspection. That time around, NASCAR levied penalties that included the loss of 25 points for both Keselowski and Logano and six-race suspensions for crew chiefs on both teams, in addition to several other key team members. The suspensions were later reduced to two races by National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook, but the rest of the penalties, including the points decutions, stood.
The first time the team got into trouble this season, Penske Racing contended that the parts were within NASCAR’s gray area, but not illegal. NASCAR, however, didn’t see it this way. With the most recent Dover trouble, the team is pointing to a part failure during the race that lowered the car below NASCAR minimum allowance. Both of these defenses may be true; I don’t know, but true or not, Keselowski continues to lose points each time the team gets in trouble.
The issues have also seemed to interrupt the momentum he looked to have at the beginning of the season. The Texas race was the 10th race of the season. Up to that point, the reigning champ finished only one race outside the top-10. That continued at Texas and one race afterward, but it seems like he’s been on some kind of downhill slide pretty much ever since. He did finally get back to finishing near the front at Dover, posting a top-five, but that was negated by another points deduction. Things really got bad thos two races he ran without Wolfe atop his pit box at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway — races in which he posted dismal finishes of 32nd and 36th.
The first few races of the season, Keselowski was at or near the top of the standings each weekend. Now, though, he finds himself in 10th, more than 100 points — more than two races — behind leader Jimmi Johnson.
Of course, if Keselowski is able to remain in the top-10 and/or pulls off a few wins between now and the next race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, he’ll be in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and with the points reset, the damage from the aforementioned penalties will be negated. Then, no harm, no foul. But what if he doesn’t recover, drops out of the top-10 and is unable to secure a wildcard spot? That’s when these penalties are really going to hurt. So, we’ll just have to wait a few months and see just what impact these losses of points have on Keselowski’s chances at repeating as Sprint Cup champion. One thing’s for sure now, though, they’re definitely not helping him any.
With all the trouble at Penske lately, does Keselowski have a shot at repeating as champion? Let us know by answering a poll question here.
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