April 24 was again a bloody day in NASCAR as one of the biggest penalties in the sport’s lengthy history of bending the rules was handed down upon championship favorite Matt Kenseth. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was penalized after winning the STP 400 at Kansas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
The winner and second place drivers cars are inspected every week, as well as a random car chosen by NASCAR. During this detailed teardown, it was determined one of Kenseth’s connecting rods was too light. The part apparently was not tampered, but only was lightened after experiencing the wear of a 400-mile race at a mile and a half track.
So, what exactly happened? Kansas and mile and a half tracks are devastating on parts, which is why we see so many teams blowing engines. Travis Kvapil was the only driver to blow an engine this weekend, but obviously the Toyota Racing Development motors were not able to survive a 400-mile beating.
Obviously the material was weakened, but did this create a distinct advantage? In theory, it absolutely did, and may have been the deciding factor in Kenseth’s close win against the Hendrick Motorsports car of Kasey Kahne.
If engine theory is correct, one lighter connecting rod would increase the rotation of the crankshaft minutely, but in terms of 7500 RPM’s to 9000, any gain is astronomical. In theory, Kenseth would have been able to gain a millisecond advantage in acceleration, but continuing that advantage every 100 RPM’s would have been a poignant factor in Kenseth’s ability to hold off Kahne, especially coming off the corners.
The repercussions of this crucial mistake are already being felt. Not only is Kenseth without his crew chief Jason Ratcliff, but Toyota Racing Development has increased its tolerance on connecting rod weight, removing any rods in between 525 and 527 grams.
As the Sprint Cup Series heads to the tight Richmond International Raceway, look for Toyota to be running towards the front, and don’t be surprised if the Toyota of Kenseth, unabashed by this massive penalty, is leading the field.
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