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For the first time since Tuesday's surprising ruling by chief appellate officer John Middlebrook to rescind the bulk of the penalties levied against the No. 48 team, Jimmie Johnson spoke with the media and said the decision proves his car was legal at Daytona.
But as pleased as the five-time champ is, his happiness was tempered by Middlebrook's choice to uphold both the fine and probation levied against crew chief Chad Knaus.
"I don't feel vindicated, because I feel like everything should have been overturned," Johnson said Friday at Auto Club Speedway in California.
Johnson though, like the majority of those who cover and follow the sport, is confused as to why Knaus was fined $100,000 and placed on probation when it was determined a rules violation hadn't been committed.
Johnson's question: How can one be fined and placed on probation if no rules infraction was found?
"I'm not totally happy with the decision," Johnson said. "I'm pleased the big issues came down, but I share confusion as well. We didn't feel a penalty was warranted in the first place. We're just as curious."
But despite the confusion, the important thing to come out of Tuesday's ruling is the fact Johnson won't be without his crew chief for any period of time and he gets back the 25 valuable points NASCAR had originally deducted. As a result, Johnson moved from 17th in the Sprint Cup standings to 11th – just one point out of 10th.
"We're pleased we didn't have the suspension and we got our points back," Johnson said. "It puts us right there, just outside the top 10, and the disruption if we were to lose Chad and Ron (Malec, car chief) would have been huge. We have depth, but you don't want to go to the race track without your crew chief and car chief.
"But again, we felt like there was no penalty warranted."
As for NASCAR president Mike Helton's contention earlier in the day Friday that the C-posts found on the 48 car at Daytona were illegal, Johnson says Tuesday's ruling speaks for itself.
"We are agreeing to disagree – respectfully," Johnson said. "NASCAR has their side and we have our side. If we didn't prove those C-posts were legal, we wouldn't have won the appeal."
Now that the appeals process is over, Johnson is focused on getting back to Victory Lane, he hopes as soon as this Sunday at a track where he's won five times previously (including his first Sprint Cup victory in 2002).
"It's behind us," he said. "The decision has been made, there are no more steps in the process and now it's time to get on the track and get to work."
NASCAR president Mike Helton was apparently as stunned as everyone else on Tuesday to hear the No. 48 team partially won its appeal of NASCAR's penalties from Daytona 500 qualifying inspection.
But Helton told reporters at Auto Club Speedway he still believes in NASCAR's inspection process and maintained Jimmie Johnson's car did have illegally modified C-posts.
"I'll keep my personal reaction to myself, because I'm the only one that'll ever know it," Helton said. "But I got through that in about 30 seconds to go on to the fact we did what we thought was correct."
Helton said the inspection process will not change and he hoped inspectors would pull the C-posts off the car if they saw a similar problem again.
"We think the decision that was made this week supports the inspection process, because the elements of the penalty that were upheld indicates the inspectors did their jobs correctly," he said. "The debate was more about the decision after that point and how we reacted to it."
Chief appellate officer John Middlebrook struck down a 25-point penalty for Johnson and the six-week suspensions for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec in a stunning decision after an appeals panel had unanimously ruled to uphold the penalties a week earlier.
Middlebrook is a former General Motors executive with strong ties to Rick Hendrick, but Helton said he believed in both Middlebrook and the integrity of the process.
"Our opinion and our belief in (Middlebrook) hasn't changed," he said.
Many observers were puzzled as to why Middlebrook rescinded the points penalty and suspensions but kept the $100,000 fine in place. But Helton said Middlebrook's job description does not include the requirement to explain his decisions.
Helton also defended the inspection process against criticism NASCAR didn't allow Johnson's car to go through the templates. The longtime executive said the inspection process begins as soon as a car is unloaded from the hauler, and the templates themselves are just a part of it.
Despite repeated questions, Helton maintained Johnson's car was not legal according to the NASCAR rulebook.
"The decision made this week upholds what's right and wrong," Helton said. "There were elements of the penalty that were upheld relative to parts of the car that did not conform to the rules."
It's been said that you can't fight City Hall and win, and the same belief has typically held true when it came to appealing a penalty handed down by NASCAR.
Since its inception, stock car racing's sanctioning body has not only been tasked with the responsibility of playing the role of sheriff – constantly on the prowl for those who try to skirt the rules – but has also acted as judge, jury and executioner.
If a NASCAR official said your car was illegal, then it was illegal. There was nothing you could do about it, apart from accepting your punishment, saying you're sorry and moving on, hat in hand.
So when chief appellate officer John Middlebrook rescinded NASCAR's six-week suspension of Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec on Tuesday, along with the 25-point penalty levied against driver Jimmie Johnson, I was speechless.
Hendrick Motorsports had toppled City Hall.
The two most tangible things to come out of this decision are:
• Knaus is not being forced to go on a six-week hiatus;
• Johnson gets his 25 points back, thus jumping from 17th in the standings to 11th.
But there's a bigger picture here, and it's one that could have lasting impact on the sport.
NASCAR, which has always been run as a quasi-dictatorship, has finally been beaten by one of the teams it oversees. With it, the entire inspection process has been called into question.
You can be sure crew chiefs across the garage will look at Tuesday's ruling and ask themselves whether they can push the limits more than before. After all, even if NASCAR penalizes them, appealing to Middlebrook means they might get it reversed.
And NASCAR may have to change some of its inspection procedures. Its refusal to allow the 48 team to work on the car after finding something amiss – an opportunity other teams received – likely played a role in Middlebrook's decision, as did officials' judgment that the car was illegal before it was ever measured.
Was NASCAR playing favorites? Were they singling out Knaus, who has an inclination for disagreeing with officials over the interpretation of the NASCAR rule book?
"I felt like they made a mistake," Knaus said after the ruling. "Obviously, with the information that was put out there, it was determined that they had, and it was just a small break down in the system. And I think that after what we've done today, some of that is going to get cleared up and make it better and easier for everybody."
In some ways, that may be exactly what NASCAR doesn't want.
Rick Hendrick closed his eyes while he spoke, the team owner appearing worn down and exhausted from a month of his organization being under suspicion of cheating.
Though tired, his posture was not one of defeat, but relief. Hendrick Motorsports gained a stunning reversal of its pre-Daytona 500 penalties on Tuesday afternoon, with chief appellate officer John Middlebrook granting the No. 48 team its wish to strike down punishments it felt were unjust.
"I'm glad this is over," Hendrick said, adding later that the process, "has been hell for 30 days."
Middlebrook, a longtime Hendrick friend and former General Motors executive who now heads the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel, decided to rescind driver Jimmie Johnson's 25-point penalty and the six-week suspensions for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec.
Most observers believed Middlebrook would either uphold the penalties or slightly reduce them, as he had in the three previous appeals he has heard.
Make that four-for-four, with the Hendrick reversal being the most significant.
"I don't think we made any mistakes, I really don't," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "I think our inspection process speaks for itself. I think it's worked very, very well in the garage area for many years, and I think it's going to work very well for years to come."
Middlebrook represented the final stage of the appeal process after a three-member appeals panel unanimously decided to uphold NASCAR's original penalties last week.
"I was shocked last Tuesday (by the panel's decision)," Hendrick said. "To me, (Middlebrook's ruling) felt like this was the only way this could go."
Curiously, though, Middlebrook decided to uphold NASCAR's $100,000 fine to Knaus – and did so without explanation.
"We had to put a lot of effort into this to prove our innocence, and obviously it was worthwhile," Knaus said when he met with reporters following Hendrick's appearance. "... Obviously, we're not happy with the fine. That's a lot of money for something was proved to be OK. So that hurts a little bit."
Said Tharp: "I think there's still evidence here there was a rules infraction. The $100,000 fine is intact, so there was a rules infraction."
No one was able to offer an explanation for why Middlebrook rescinded the suspensions and points penalty but kept the fine in place, and Middlebrook was not made available to reporters.
Either way, Tuesday's decision ended an extended process which continued to make headlines off the track.
While the No. 48 car waited in line for pre-qualifying inspection for February's Daytona 500, inspectors pulled the team aside and cited illegally modified C-post panels (the sheet metal extending from the roof to the rear quarterpanel).
But Hendrick insisted the C-posts were the exact same ones the No. 48 car used for all four restrictor-plate races last season. The car had been to NASCAR's Research & Development Center for technical inspection after Johnson's win in the spring Talladega race and was back in the R&D Center as recently as January.
At Tuesday's hearing, Hendrick presented roughly 20 photographs, 15 pages of evidence and three sworn affidavits that he said showed the C-posts had never been touched since the previous inspections.
The team also showed Middlebrook a written statement from a NASCAR inspector that said "the (C-post) area was OK" to work in, since it wasn't covered by the templates.
"All I can tell you is by the rule book, the car was legal," Hendrick said. "I believe if that wasn't the case, we wouldn't have gotten this overturned."
Hendrick was also upset inspectors never gave the No. 48 team a chance to work on the C-posts once they were ruled to be illegal. The team owner said there were more than 20 teams who had the chance to sand or grind their cars and go through inspection again at Daytona, including at least three cars who were given the opportunity to work on their C-posts.
"All we ask for is we get treated the same way," he said. "I think today proved that they have a system where if there's a mistake made, or if they didn't look at something at the time of the infraction, there is a way to go out and remedy the deal."
Knaus said the idea he and his team are a bunch of cheaters is unfair, even though he's been caught and suspended several times.
"It's been years since we've been in trouble – years!" Knaus said. "It's unfortunate the perception out there is we continue to bend the rules, because we truly don't. ... We go above and beyond to be compliant with what they want.
"I was really, really shocked (at Daytona), and I was pretty torn up, because I felt we did everything within our power to build the best car we could for the Daytona 500 and take it down there without any problems."
Repeating his oft-used mantra, the crew chief said he's not concerned about his reputation and only cares about winning races for Hendrick Motorsports.
"If people don't like the way we do it or what's happened in the past," he said, "then it's sad."
In a stunning decision few people saw coming, Hendrick Motorsports won its final appeal of NASCAR's Daytona penalties against the No. 48 team on Tuesday.
No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec had their six-week suspensions overturned by John Middlebrook, the chief appellate officer of the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Board.
Middlebrook also restored Jimmie Johnson's lost 25 points, but curiously kept a $100,000 fine in place on Knaus.
The No. 48 team had been punished after the car was pulled out of the inspection line prior to Daytona 500 qualifying and found to have illegally modified C-posts installed on the car.
But team owner Rick Hendrick argued the C-posts were on the car for every race last year, and they were ruled legal numerous times.
NASCAR said it respected Middlebrook's decision, while Hendrick and Knaus told reporters outside NASCAR's R&D Center they expected to win the appeal all along.
We'll have much more on this story in the coming hours.
Despite Tuesday's appeals panel decision to uphold the initial NASCAR penalties levied against Hendrick Motorsports' No. 48 team, driver Jimmie Johnson remains confident and optimistic his crew would be cleared of wrongdoing.
"I'm definitely disappointed in what happened last Tuesday," Johnson said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. "I have hope that this next appeal will be heard and we will have a different outcome. There is no telling how it is all going to shake out."
The appeals panel kept the original penalties in place, including a six-week suspension for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec, along with a loss of 25 points for Johnson and a $100,000 fine for Knaus.
But Hendrick has another chance to appeal the penalties on Tuesday with chief appellate officer John Middlebrook. And on that front, Johnson is looking forward to some sort of resolution – one way or another – so he can move on with his season.
"We either are down a ton of points or some points depending on what happens (Tuesday)," he said. "Race wins I think are premium and top of mind right now. I think all drivers look at the Chase and think if you can win two or three races, the points are what they are; the wild card can carry you in. We want to win races and get as many points as we possibly can."
Johnson said Hendrick continues to fight because "we clearly feel we have a point to make."
Surprisingly, Johnson said Hendrick has no contingency plan in place if Knaus and Malec are out for an extended period of time.
"If things stand, it will be a huge blow to the team," Johnson said. "I feel like we can work through it and still have a chance to win races, but it would be very difficult.
"We do have depth in our organization. We feel like if this next appeal, things don't change, we are not overly concerned because of the depth we have, but still we know how important this sport is along the lines of chemistry."
Without question, Johnson's quest to his win sixth series championship will take a blow if he is docked 25 driver points and loses his crew and car chief. The six races Knaus and Malec would be forced to miss are Auto Club Speedway (Calif.), Martinsville, Texas, Kansas, Richmond and Talladega – all tracks Johnson has won on previously, including wins last year at Talladega and Kansas.
"Twenty-five points is a big number," Johnson said. "It puts a premium back on winning, and then you don't have your crew chief and car chief, so winning is going to be that much more difficult. It's a double-edged sword. It's not an easy deal to go through; that is why we are fighting these appeals like we are."
A lingering issue and one that won't be truly answered for some time is what the impact will be on Johnson's legacy if indeed his crew chief is suspended for the third time in seven years for a rules violation. Will Johnson's five Sprint Cup titles and 55 career wins forever carry an asterisk next to them?
When asked that question Friday, Johnson was convinced his team's continued run-ins with NASCAR won't tarnish his otherwise remarkable accomplishments.
"You all know that there is not a car more scrutinized in this garage area than the No. 48 car," Johnson said. "It's been that way for the last decade. By no means do I think it hampers it at all."
Here's what FOX/SPEED analyst Darrell Waltrip and SPEED analyst Kyle Petty are saying about an appeals panel decision to uphold the NASCAR penalties on Hendrick Motorsports' No. 48 team and its crew chief, Chad Knaus:
I am surprised this wasn't overturned in some form. I really thought there would be some sort of a reduction in the penalty. The money and points fine makes sense to me, and Jimmie Johnson has made up a lot of points recently and is coming up through the point standings. But six weeks' suspension for Chad and the car chief [Ron Malec] -- I thought that was a little excessive. But there is precedent. It's not like this hasn't been done before or this is a cruel and unusual punishment.
From the panel's perspective, NASCAR and its inspectors would have had to have done something glaringly wrong at Daytona to warrant reversing the original decision and penalties. Most of us expected the panel to side with NASCAR. That doesn't mean the panel is prejudiced or acts as a rubber stamp. The panel doesn't look at circumstantial evidence. They look at what happened and what, if any, rules were broken by the team. Was the process handled in the proper manner?
If the panel is satisfied that everything was handled properly, they're unlikely to reverse a decision. If no rule had been broken by the team, the panel would have had an easy job. This process is like a football team appealing a call made on the field. The next appeal to John Middlebrook would be like the refs going to the video to make a call. But like Rick Hendrick said, "I'm glad we have a process we can appeal through. NASCAR doesn't just tell teams to ‘suck it up and move on.' At least there is a process in place."
Coming off of a unanimous decision, I really think Hendrick Motorsports has a slim-to-none chance of this being overturned by Mr. Middlebrook. As we've seen so many times in the court system, the Supreme Court oftentimes upholds what a lower court rules, especially in a decision like this. Mr. Middlebrook is the final answer. If it had been a split decision, I think Hendrick's chances in the next appeal still would be questionable, but I don't see how Mr. Middlebrook can do anything but uphold the panel's ruling.
I do think the failure to overturn the penalty has something to do with Chad Knaus' past history of infractions with NASCAR. If this was his first offense, we wouldn't see this punishment and probably wouldn't on the second offense. But this is down the road for Chad. I defend Chad 100 percent in this particular case, and I haven't always defended him; quite the contrary.
History probably does have something to do with this ruling, but I think that tendency is across all walks of life. If you're a teacher and have that kid who acts up all the time, his past behavior probably clouds your judgment of him at some point in time and eliminates any leniency you might have given him. In the legal system, with a habitual offender, the punishment is different than a first-time offender. With Chad, I think the punishment is different than it would be for [No. 24 crew chief] Steve Letarte or some of the other Hendrick crew chiefs.
I still say there was no crime committed by the No. 48 team and Knaus. This is just my opinion, and Facebook and Twitter and the rest of the world can go off all they want, but there was no crime. No one was harmed or cheated by what they did. They presented the car for initial inspection and it failed initial inspection. It never made it onto the race track, never turned the wheel or even made it to the template room.
With that in mind, the punishment doesn't fit the crime -- especially not the points penalty. But when no wheel has been turned and no points earned, it's totally against my philosophy to penalize like this.
Hendrick Motorsports will appeal the No. 48 team's Daytona penalty to its highest level after the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel decided to uphold NASCAR's original ruling on Tuesday afternoon.
The appeals panel of John Capels, Leo Mehl and Dale Pinilis unanimously decided to reject Hendrick's argument that NASCAR's six-week suspension of 48 team crew chief Chad Knaus was unjust and kept all aspects of the penalty in place. That also includes a loss of 25 points for driver Jimmie Johnson, a six-week suspension of car chief Ron Malec and a $100,000 fine for Knaus.
"We're disappointed with the outcome the way it was," team owner Rick Hendrick told reporters outside NASCAR's Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C. "But we're going to go ahead to the next level (of appeals)."
Asked why Hendrick chose to keep fighting the penalty and not just get the punishment over with by letting Knaus begin to serve his suspension, the team owner responded firmly.
"Because I don't accept it. Period," he said.
NASCAR found the No. 48 car had illegally modified C-posts – the paneling that connects the roof to the rear quarterpanel – on both sides of the vehicle prior to Daytona 500 qualifying.
That violated several rules, including one that states: "If in the judgment of NASCAR officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance will not be permitted."
Knaus will be Johnson's crew chief this weekend at Bristol and for the foreseeable future until the final appeal is heard at a yet-to-be-determined date.
Hendrick said he "stands firmly" behind Knaus and the rest of the No. 48 team and said he believes in both the Hendrick personnel and its system.
He would not go into detail about Hendrick's defense at Tuesday's appeal.
NASCAR had no additional comment on the issue.
Sitting negative in points is not a position Jimmie Johnson is at all familiar with.
But after a 42nd-place showing in the Daytona 500 coupled with a 25-point penalty from NASCAR for illegal modifications made to his car prior to Daytona 500 qualifying, the five-time champ finds himself in the red entering this weekend's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
"It is certainly not a position we want to be in," Johnson said Friday when he met with reporters. "But there is a lot of racing between now and September (for the Chase cutoff). Right now, we are focused on doing the best job we can and getting as many points as we possibly can."
Helping ease the concern is how well the 48 team has responded to and thrived over the years when faced with adversity.
While the points margin is daunting, it is not insurmountable. Particularly considering NASCAR's wild card format, which awards Chase spots to the two drivers who have won the most races and are ranked inside the top 20 in points.
When asked if his strategy might change in order to recoup some of the points he lost, both in the 500 and the penalty from NASCAR, Johnson didn't waver.
"No, no strategy change," Johnson said. "The end result is winning races. The worst-case scenario would be fighting for a wild card spot, and that boils down to winning races. It is no different than if we won the Daytona 500. We want to go to the race track and perform as well as we can each and every week and win races. That is our agenda."
Johnson also was steadfast in his support of crew chief Chad Knaus, the man who has guided him to five Sprint Cup championships – this despite Knaus' continued run-ins with NASCAR and facing his third suspension for a rules violation.
"There is a lot of work that goes into these race cars," Johnson said. "I have all the confidence in the world and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports on the No. 48 team and across the board. We are building race cars to go to the race track and win races with. I believe in our system, I believe in my team, I believe in my guys. It is what it is. We are here to race and win the race this weekend."
When asked to speculate whether Knaus' reputation for pushing the limits of what's legal played a part in NASCAR's decision-making process, Johnson deferred to officials.
"That would require me speculating," he said. "I'm just not in a position to do that. You will have to take that question up with NASCAR."
If Knaus' appeal is denied and he is forced to sit out for six weeks, Johnson has little concern the crew chief's absence would greatly impact the team he leads. As for whether this latest indiscretion may taint what he and his team have accomplished, Johnson was adamant his team plays within the rules.
"Whatever ends up happening post-appeal, I have a lot of confidence in Hendrick Motorsports and the depth we have in our organization," Johnson said. "We will respond to whatever we need to then.
"Right now, again, I'm focused on Phoenix and we will move on from here and deal with things as they come up."
Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus said he was "deeply saddened" and "disappointed" by NASCAR's heavy-handed penalty this week for the illegally modified C-posts found on Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 car at Daytona International Speedway.
Knaus, who was suspended for six weeks along with car chief Ron Malec and fined $100,000, said Friday he "really didn't expect" NASCAR to have an issue with the C-posts and did not believe he was taking a risk with the parts.
The penalties are currently under appeal, so Knaus will still be crew chief for the 48 team at Phoenix.
"We do everything we can to build the best race cars we possibly can to bring to the racetrack, and that's what we do," he told a group of reporters at Phoenix. "Unfortunately, they didn't like something and we've got to address that."
The identical car raced at all four restrictor-plate races last season – it won the spring Talladega race – and was inspected multiple times without issue, Knaus said.
But if that's true, then it's also the same car Knaus told Johnson to intentionally damage if he won the fall Talladega race.
Knaus, a crew chief with a history of pushing the limit and occasionally getting caught, said NASCAR only did a visual inspection of the car and never put the templates on to take an actual measurement (though it's worth noting NASCAR said this may have been an area that was in between the templates).
"It was just a visual inspection at that point," Knaus said. "We never actually got the opportunity to present that under the templates. So it's unfortunate. There's a bit of subjectiveness to it. That's why we're going through the appeal."
When a reporter asked if it was acceptable for a team to be penalized without ever getting its car actually measured, Knaus said that would be part of the appeal process.
"We'll just have to talk about it at that point," he said. "(NASCAR has) a good set of structure and standards that are in black in white, and some areas that are not."
Knaus, who has run afoul of NASCAR and been suspended multiple times in the past, said he wasn't sure if NASCAR put him under more scrutiny than other crew chiefs.
"You know, I don't know," he said. "That's difficult for me to say. You'd have to go ask NASCAR about that."
A backup plan for who would crew chief the No. 48 car in case the appeal fails has not been determined, Knaus said. The crew chief also wouldn't say who was responsible for the illegal C-posts on the car.
Despite a 25-point penalty which left Johnson with -23 points entering Phoenix, Knaus said he expected the 48 team to overcome the setback and rise to the occasion by still contending for the championship.
Though he's been penalized for various offenses over the years, the 40-year-old Knaus said he wasn't worried about how he would be viewed by the public.
"Honestly, I'm here to do the best I can for the 48 team, and that's all that really matters to me," he said. "As far as my reputation goes, I'm really not too concerned about that."
NASCAR came down hard on Chad Knaus for the illegally modified C-posts discovered during pre-Daytona 500 qualifying inspection, suspending the Jimmie Johnson crew chief on Wednesday for six weeks.
The sanctioning body also fined Knaus $100,000, suspended No. 48 team car chief Ron Malec for six weeks and, perhaps most important, docked a valuable 25 points from driver Johnson.
Johnson, who finished 42nd in the Daytona 500, will now enter the Phoenix International Raceway weekend with -23 points. He becomes the first driver to go into negative points since Michael Waltrip in 2007.
Hendrick Motorsports immediately announced it will appeal the penalty.
"Our organization respects NASCAR and the way the sanctioning body governs our sport," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "In this case, though, the system broke down, and we will voice our concerns through the appeal process."
Knaus and Malec will be able to attend the races while the appeal is ongoing.
The severity of Wednesday's penalty was not a huge surprise. In 2007, Knaus was suspended six weeks for illegally modifying a part of the body that was "between the templates." NASCAR made it clear then – as it did Wednesday – that such tweaks will not be tolerated.
The C-post is a piece of paneling toward the back of the car that connects the roof to the rear quarterpanel. A team could try to modify it in order to gain an aerodynamic advantage, which is crucial at tracks like Daytona and Talladega.
NASCAR discovered the violations during opening day inspection for Daytona 500 qualifying. Officials said they would wait until after the 500 to issue a ruling.
At the time, Johnson expressed optimism that Knaus wouldn't be punished too severely.
"We'll see what the Tuesday after the 500 holds," Johnson said. "... I don't know if I'm reading it incorrectly, but if they were really mad, then Chad wouldn't be here and the car would be impounded. They're letting us work on it. I'm hoping that's a good sign."
In last fall's Talladega race, Knaus was discovered to have instructed Johnson to intentionally damage the rear end of the car if the No. 48 won. Knaus told SB Nation he was worried about the car becoming out of tolerance during a 500-mile race.
Hendrick recently told ESPN.com's David Newton the No. 48 car was the same one that ran each restrictor-plate race last year, including the Talladega race.
Jimmie Johnson is hopeful NASCAR won't react too harshly to the unapproved body modifications discovered on his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports ride on Friday.
The infraction was found during inspection for Daytona 500 qualifying and involved the C-post panels on both sides of Johnson's car. NASCAR said it would consider issuing penalties, but not until after the Daytona 500.
That crew chief Chad Knaus is still at the track -- he was immediately ejected for an infraction in 2006 -- is a sign to Johnson that perhaps the penalties may not be too serious.
"We'll see what the Tuesday after the 500 holds," he said. "... I don't know if I'm reading it incorrectly, but if they were really mad, then Chad wouldn't be here and the car would be impounded. They're letting us work on it. I'm hoping that's a good sign."
Johnson said "a lot of people" were working on aerodynamic advantages throughout the garage area and said NASCAR's technical inspection was in place to keep teams in line.
But he acknowledged, "it certainly isn't the way you want to start the week."
"The fact that we haven't been on track yet is an important thing to remember," he said. "We had to work on our car, and we will. It is not how we wanted to start the week, especially with so much attention being drawn to it. But it's something that won't slow us down and we'll still have a great shot to win the 500."
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.
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