NASCAR handed Chad Knaus a $100,000 fine and suspended him and his car chief, Ron Malec, for six races. NASCAR also handed out points penalties to both Jimmie Johnson and car owner Rick Hendrick. This penalty combined with Johnson's poor finish in the Daytona 500 will have the #48 team in the negatives going into Phoenix this weekend.
That's right, the 48 team will have a grand total of negative 23 points when they start the next race on the NASCAR schedule.
Prior to the start of practice at the beginning of Speedweeks NASCAR confiscated the "C" pillars off the Jimmie Johnson piloted Chevy. Although the pillars technically fit the templates NASCAR used, the governing body did not 'like' the way in which the pillars were altered for what NASCAR thought would give them an aerodynamic advantage and cut them out of the car. As a result of the modifications the 48 team was found to be in violation of Section 20-2.1E -- unapproved car body modifications, specifically any part of the car modified to enhance aerodynamic performance.
Hendrick Motorsports is of course appealing NASCAR's decision, but I don't think they'll be successful.
Being 'caught' by NASCAR for unapproved body modifications is not something new for the veteran crew chief as Knaus was suspended back in 2006 for some modifications to the rear window area after the Daytona 500 and again in 2007 at a race in Sonoma where the sides of the car were slightly 'altered'. Even last year he was caught on video telling Jimmie to crack the back of the car if he won the race in what appeared to be a move to avoid problems during post-race inspection.
Having the 48 car flirting within the unwritten gray areas of the NASCAR rules seems to be common place with Knaus, but does that make him a cheater? Or an innovator?
If you look at some of the greatest car builders in NASCAR's storied past they were innovators, looking for any and all advantages to get better fuel mileage and/or speed.
For example, legendary car builder Smokey Yunick, took NASCAR's rule book in the mid 1960's, looked at it and built a car that met every single NASCAR rule yet was uniquely different from all of the other cars trying to qualify for the Daytona 500. Where ever there was no rule Smokey took advantage - he even molded a spoiler into the rear edge of the roof line to crate more down-force. NASCAR took exception to Smokey's interpretation of the rules and wouldn't let him race the Chevelle in the 500.
Another time NASCAR knew Smokey had some way of getting more gas into his car to get better fuel mileage yet they couldn't figure it out so they finally gave up nd told Smokey to take his car, but NASCAR kept the gas tank and wouldn't give it back. Smokey then got ticked off, got into his car, started it up and drove off with no gas tank in the car.
Creativity within the rules didn't stop in the 1960's, their have been many more cases over the decades since. Bill Elliott once had the fastest car out on the track back in the 1980's and it wasn't because of his great engines either, although that is what they led you to believe. What they really did was make the car more narrow in its width. NASCAR had side wheel-to-wheel measurements and front to back templates, but they didn't have firm side-to-side body measurements nor proper side -to-side templates. Melling and his team worked within these rules and they built Elliott's cars more narrow than the other cars out on the track. This allowed the car to cut through the air with less resistance gaining them more speed in the process.
These are just a few examples of teams working within the gray areas of NASCAR's rule book, there are more (documented and rumored), and there will always be teams 'doing it'. Sayings like, "It ain't cheating until you get caught" and "If you're ain't doing it, then you're not keeping up" are sayings for a reason, people are pushing the envelope and working within the gray areas more often than NASCAR would like and more often than we know.
When we talk about these incidents in innovation we look back at NASCAR's past innovators with a gleam in our eyes and a sense of admiration. I mean Smokey Yunick is known as a legendary innovator, not a cheater, yet when people like Chad Knaus try to be innovative they are labelled by the fans as cheaters, why is that? You tell me.
Personally, I think Chad is continuing to do what those before him did, find ways to work within the rules yet push the boundaries of the rules as well. You may call it cheating and that's fine, I'd call it innovation if I weren't scared that I'd get tarred and feathered by a bunch of politically-correct-rules-conscious NASCAR fans.