Overturned Penalty Could Be Game-Changer For NASCAR, Teams

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So when chief appellate officer John Middlebrook rescinded NASCAR's six-week suspension of Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec on Tuesday, along with the 25-point penalty levied against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.

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