Brad Keselowski's crew chief, Paul Wolfe, is set to guide the Penske team at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend as NASCAR has deferred his two-race suspension pending a final appeal.
NASCAR docked Keselowski 35 points, suspended Wolfe for three races and fined Wolfe $65,000 for Keselowski's fifth-place car failing postrace measurements March 19 at Phoenix International Raceway. Wolfe sat out the next race at Auto Club Speedway but returned amid the Penske appeal.
A three-person appeals panel ruled April 11 against Penske, which opted to take its case to NASCAR Final Appeals officer Bryan Moss. Moss, a former Gulfstream executive who attends a handful of races during the year, will hear the Penske case April 25. A team spokesperson said Tuesday that Wolfe is expected to crew chief this weekend.
By working Bristol, Wolfe sets himself up to miss races April 30 at Richmond and May 7 at Talladega if he loses his appeal. Although a crew chief's ability to tinker on the car is limited at Talladega because of the stricter rules for restrictor-plate tracks, Talladega is among the 10 NASCAR playoff tracks later in the year, while Bristol and Richmond are not.
The Penske car at Phoenix had a postrace rear suspension skew of more than 0.56 degrees, and that apparently is not in dispute. Teams start the race with no skew and NASCAR gives the teams that tolerance for wear and tear during the race. NASCAR's rulebook lists the specific, harsh penalties for cars that are out of tolerance, a tolerance that NASCAR believes is generous enough that any failures are an egregious violation of its rules.
Team owner Roger Penske, speaking April 2, indicated that the Penske appeal centers on not being able to go through the postrace measurements after allowing the car to settle following an initial failure. In past years, NASCAR has allowed teams, depending on the circumstances, to change tires and return to the tech platform after an initial failure but does not have a rule on postrace protocol or when it would allow teams a second chance to pass postrace measurements.
The burden of proof in the final appeal is on the team, rather than on NASCAR, which faces the burden of proof in the initial appeal.