NASCAR cut off and confiscated sheet metal from the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports car of Jimmie Johnson on Friday, citing unapproved modifications to the C-post area.
The infractions were discovered during inspection for Daytona 500 qualifying, which means there could be possible penalties for the No. 48 team after the Daytona 500.
"We're pretty serious about the body configurations of the cars for all of the right reasons," NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said. "This one was a modification that had been made to the car that put it outside that box."
The unapproved modifications to the C-post, which is a panel of sheet metal that connects the roof of the car and the rear quarterpanel, were found on both sides of the No. 48 car. As is customary practice, the parts were put on display in the NASCAR hauler after being confiscated.
For now, the team is being allowed to repair the car with the proper parts.
"There's always a potential (for penalties), but we'll just wait until the 500 is over with," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition.
(Above photo via Twitter account of @2spotter)
A Hendrick Motorsports official called the incident "a hell of a way to start the 2012 season."
"You work within the templates the best way you think, and obviously you're trying to do a better job than the next guy," said Ken Howes, Hendrick's vice president of competition. "I did not see the grid on the car, so I can't tell exactly where it missed, but NASCAR said it's not right – so it's not right. We don't have an argument with that."
Howes acknowledged the No. 48 team was trying to gain an aerodynamic advantage by tweaking that area of the car and "obviously went too far." Howes hadn't asked Knaus for an explanation yet, he said.
"We allow the crew chiefs to make decisions on parts of the car they think will work," Howes said. "It becomes an opinion, and we're just not going to get in a fight over that sort of thing. We trust that they'll make the right decision and obviously, in this case, they didn't."
The other Hendrick cars – the No. 24 of Jeff Gordon, the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 5 of Kasey Kahne – all passed inspection and did not have the same issue as the No. 48.
Hendrick is in the process of flying down new C-post panels from its headquarters in North Carolina, Howes said. The parts are expected to arrive in Daytona this evening.
The car that had an issue in inspection is the same one that will be repaired and used for Daytona 500 qualifying practice on Saturday and the qualifying session itself on Sunday, he said.
This wouldn't be the first time Knaus was caught with an unapproved part at Daytona.
In 2006, Knaus was ejected from Daytona Speedweeks and was suspended for the Daytona 500 – and three other races – after Johnson's car failed inspection in the rear window area.
So why wasn't Knaus ejected this time?
"That was a little different, because that was post-(qualifying)," Pemberton said. "That wasn't pre-qualifying."
Last season, Knaus ran into more trouble when he was overheard instructing Johnson to intentionally damage the rear end of the race car if the driver won at Talladega.
Ultimately, Friday's incident may be similar to one that occurred at Sonoma in 2007. At that time, Hendrick crew chiefs Knaus and Steve Letarte were suspended for six weeks and fined $100,000 apiece after trying to gain an advantage in an area not directly covered by NASCAR's templates.
NASCAR's Darby said teams used to be able to get away with working "between the templates," but can no longer do so.
But Howes said there are "areas on the templates (that) don't cover every square inch," and teams work to push the limits in those areas.