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NASCAR defends penalty to Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs racing

RICHMOND — Joe Gibbs understands that ­NASCAR must enforce the rule book and his team deserved a penalty for an illegal part in Matt Kenseth’s engine. The team owner just disagrees with the severity of the penalties levied this week.

More importantly, he’s deeply troubled with the perception Joe Gibbs Racing cheated.

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‘‘You spend your life trying to live a certain way. That’s a real personal thing and is something that has a big effect on me,’’ said Gibbs, who added that when someone wrongs him, he always searches for intent.

‘‘The first thing I wanted to know was: ‘What was their intent?’ ’’ Gibbs said Friday. ‘‘Was it an accident, was it a mistake or did they purposefully try to do something? That’s important to me.”

JGR made a strong statement that the organization is weathering this storm in Friday qualifying at Richmond International Raceway, where Kenseth won the pole. Brian Vickers was second to make it an all-JGR front row for the Toyota Owners 400 on Saturday night. Jeff Gordon qualified third, followed by Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer.

The pole-winning run negates one portion of the penalty levied against Kenseth on Wednesday, when NASCAR said the pole he won last week at Kansas would not count toward eligibility for next year’s preseason race at Daytona.

It was part of a harsh penalty levied by NASCAR, which maintained it’s not its responsibility to determine intent.

‘‘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,” said NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. ‘‘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.’’

The issue is not whether the part was illegal, because JGR admits its mistake. one of eight connecting rods failed to meet the minimum weight requirement. But The engine came from manufacturer Toyota Racing Development, and JGR is questioning the fairness in NASCAR’s harsh ruling against the team.

The reasoning, Pemberton said Friday, is two-fold.

‘‘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,’’ Pemberton said.

Per NASCAR policy, Kenseth’s race-winning engine from Sunday at Kansas was taken back to the North Carolina Research & Development Center for a thorough inspection. Once opened to NASCAR inspectors, one connecting rod was found to be approximately 3 grams — less than the weight of an envelope — too light.

Kenseth had everything but his trophy taken away, with NASCAR docking him 50 points, plus the 3 bonus points he earned for the win. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff was fined $200,000 and he and Gibbs were both suspended for six races.

JGR is appealing, so Rat­cliff and Gibbs could work Friday at Richmond. , where Kenseth has gone on record in calling the penalties ‘‘grossly unfair’’ and ‘‘borderline shameful.’’

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Brad Keselowski ducked underneath Kyle Busch to take the lead with 10 laps to go Friday and won a wild Nationwide Series race at Richmond International Raceway.

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