Brad Keselowski crew chief Paul Wolfe will be suspended for the next two races as a three-member NASCAR appeals panel ruled against Team Penske following a hearing Wednesday.
Keselowski's fifth-place car failed postrace inspection on March 19 at Phoenix International Raceway as its rear suspension had more than 0.56 degrees of skew. Cars start the race with no rear skew, and teams are given a tolerance for wear and tear on the car during a race.
NASCAR suspended Wolfe for three races, fined him $65,000 and docked Keselowski 35 points. Wolfe sat out one race before Penske decided to appeal the penalty.
"While we are disappointed in today's results, we plan to immediately request a final appeal hearing as outlined in the NASCAR rulebook," Team Penske said in a statement. "While the appeals process runs its course, we will continue to move forward and our focus will remain on getting prepared for the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Bristol Motor Speedway."
A Penske spokesman said the team has not decided whether to ask for Wolfe's suspension -- currently scheduled for the April 21-23 weekend at Bristol and April 28-30 weekend at Richmond -- to be deferred until the hearing by NASCAR final appeals officer Bryan Moss. If Moss doesn't schedule the hearing for next week, Penske would have to decide whether to have Wolfe sit out Bristol or potentially miss Talladega, the race that follows Richmond and a track that is one of the 10 in the NASCAR playoffs.
With two victories this year, Keselowski already has secured a spot in the NASCAR playoffs as long as he finishes in the top-30 in points. The points penalty matters because the top-10 in the final regular-season standings earn "playoff points" on a 15-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale that drivers carry throughout the playoffs until the final round.
With the penalty, Keselowski sits fourth in the standings, 24 points out of second and 41 out of the lead.
Team owner Roger Penske said on April 2 that last season some cars got the opportunity to go over the tech platform -- known as the "laser inspection" station -- more than once following a race and the appeal would be based on that procedure. There is no rule, though, that requires NASCAR to give a team a second go-round -- nor any that detail extenuating circumstances where it might allow a second try.
"It's going to be better for everybody if we can state our case and maybe overall they'll change some rules so ... maybe we'll have a level playing field," Penske said on April 2. "During that process, we think about people that won races last year that were able to run across the plate twice or three times, we weren't allowed to do that at all. One time and you're out.
"The consistency is really important to me from an officiating perspective. We'll have a chance to go and talk about our side of the story. We might get nothing, but I think at least maybe we can make the sport better."
Penske was the first team penalized since NASCAR revised its rear skew penalties last September from three tiers based on three postrace tolerance levels to the current significant sanctions with a single postrace tolerance level that it considers an egregious violation of its rules.
NASCAR officials declined comment on the decision of the appeals panel, which was made up of former NASCAR driver Rick Crawford, former television executive Hunter Nickell and Bowman Gray (North Carolina) Stadium promoter Dale Pinilis. The panel, in its statement, said it upheld the penalty because the Penske car violated the rule on the postrace general inspection measurements.