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.