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Many observers were puzzled as to why Middlebrook rescinded the points penalty and suspensions but kept the $100,000 fine in place.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."