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."