By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
AUSTIN— Brad Keselowski will try to look out the windshield while his team fights one of the biggest penalties in NASCAR history.
In some ways, that won’t be easy. He will race in the spotlight partially for the wrong reasons with a penalty designed to significantly hamper his playoff hopes.
In other ways, it won’t be as difficult as it first seems. He didn’t make the move to driver-owner of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing focused on the present as much as the future. NASCAR also, in a weird way, has possibly helped his team determine race strategy thanks to the significant sanctions.
NASCAR announced Thursday that it had found an illegal modification to a vendor-supplied piece on Keselowski’s 12th-place car from Atlanta. It docked Keselowski 100 driver points, 100 owner points and 10 playoff points, as well as issuing a four-race suspension and $100,000 fine to Keselowski crew chief Matt McCall.
“It’s not crippling,” Keselowski said Saturday at Circuit of the Americas. “It’s not what we want. Nobody wants to be in this position.
“But I would say that we’re going to get out of this what we make of it. And we can use this as a moment to drain our own tears or get stronger and be better, and I’m committed to the latter of the two.”
Sources with knowledge of the violation said the team modified a body part at the rear of the car. Teams used to make their own bodies, but with NASCAR’s new Next Gen car, those body panels are supplied and not supposed to be altered. NASCAR warned teams of severe penalties if they violated those rules.
“They knew what the penalties were upfront for manipulation of a spec part,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said Saturday.
NASCAR wouldn’t talk more about the violation, citing the appeals process. And Keselowski chose his words carefully.
“We’ve got to work through it,” he said of the penalty. “So it’s trying to understand how we can make this a moment to be better as a team, and hopefully for the industry as well.
“That’s my goal, kind of, out of all of this is to not dwell on the current stuff but to focus on what we can learn and how we can improve.”
The penalty dropped Keselowski from four points behind the current playoff cutoff (he sat 16th in the driver standings) to 104 points behind the cutoff (and 35th in the driver standings). That means for him to make the playoffs, he likely will need to win one race — maybe two if there are more than 16 winners in the 26-race regular season — to make the 16-driver playoff field.
Knowing that he has virtually no chance to make it on points, Keselowski could focus his race strategy on winning — and taking risks — without worrying about a bad finish hurting him in the standings.
“Ultimately, the goals of this deal are to come here, win races, compete for championships,” Keselowski said of the penalty and his season in general. “And anything short of that is not where we want to be. So clearly, that’s not where we’re at right now.
“But that doesn’t mean we’re giving up by any means. I didn’t come here for one year and see how it goes. So this is a little bit of rough stretch, which was probably predictable.”
Even though it was predictable, it was still frustrating to the 2012 Cup champion, who has made the playoffs the past eight consecutive years and who came to Roush Fenway from Penske with 35 career victories on his résumé.
“We’re just going to fight like hell to look out the front window and not the back,” Keselowski said.
The rest of the garage obviously took notice of the severity of the penalty.
Joey Logano: The Keselowski penalty should scare everyone
Joey Logano says the NASCAR penalty issued to RFK Racing should scare everyone as a sign that NASCAR is putting its foot down.
“I’m pretty sure it scares the hell out everyone, which is probably some of the intention of NASCAR,” former Cup champion Joey Logano said. “They said they were going to put their foot down.
“We don’t know what it was and what happened. But we do know the penalty was huge. … We know we probably shouldn’t screw around.”
Keselowski declined to comment on the specifics of the violation. He indicated that he didn’t know about the potential for the violation prior to the race (sometimes drivers are informed if teams are working in what commonly is considered the “gray area” of the rulebook).
“I would say it’s fair to say that in last few days, I’ve learned more than I knew before the race weekend,” Keselowski said.
Keselowski also declined to comment on whether he thought NASCAR was targeting his team. NASCAR confiscated the wheels of RFK and Team Penske at Daytona for what they thought was a modification but later ruled the team would not be penalized. Keselowski’s car also failed pre-qualifying tech inspection twice, resulting in his car chief (the person who implements the setup at the direction of the crew chief) being ejected for the COTA weekend.
The former Cup champion also would not discuss the team’s appeal of the penalty and whether it centers on arguing that the piece was legal or that the severity of the penalty was too harsh. He also didn’t say much about whether he thought he could be victorious on appeal (most appeals are denied).
Chase Elliott speaks out about the Keselowski violation
Chase Elliott says it could be good for teams to know a little more about the Keselowski violation.
“I probably don’t dwell on that kind of stuff that much,” he said.
The team already has McCall starting to serve his suspension. Team engineer Josh Sell is serving as crew chief. Keselowski could have asked for McCall’s suspension to be deferred pending appeal.
“We had already made decisions there [for him not to come to COTA],” Keselowski said. “So we were kind of set.”
He’s also set in trying to make the best of the situation.
“Ultimately, if we can go out and compete at a high level and win races, I don’t think we’ll even be talking about this,” Keselowski said.
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!
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