On March 20th, Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook heard the appeal from Hendrick Motorsports and adjusted the penalties.
On opening day of inspection at Daytona International Speedway on February 17th, the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team was assessed penalties after NASCAR deemed the c-posts to be illegal. According to NASCAR, they broke Section 12-1 of the NASCAR Rule Book “Actions detrimental to stock car racing;”, Section 12-4(J): “Any determination by NASCAR Officials that the Race Equipment used in the Event does not conform to NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the NASCAR Rule Book, or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the Event;”, and Section 20-2.1(E): “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: Unapproved car body modifications”.
After hearing Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal, Middlebrook erased the 25 owner point penalty assessed to car owner Jeff Gordon, the 25 driver point penalty assessed to Jimmie Johnson, the six week suspension to crew chief Chad Knaus and the six week suspension to car chief Ron Malec. The $100,000 fine penalty to Knaus remains in place along with the probation till May 9th for both Knaus and Malec.
“I’m glad this is over,” team owner Rick Hendrick says. “I would have liked to have the fine gone too because there was no reason for any kind of penalty.”
One of the arguments that Hendrick argued was that NASCAR didn’t give them a chance to work on the c-posts while at least three other teams were allowed to. Hendrick added that his team won the appeal as they had everything documented. They had a NASCAR official say that the c-posts were correct in a previous inspection and three sworn affidavits saying the c-posts were never touched on Johnson’s car from Talladega last year to Daytona this year.
“There was no ill intent on our part,” Hendrick says. “We felt by the rulebook we were approved. By the rulebook the car was legal.”
Hendrick Motorsports felt that they had a good appeal going in as NASCAR determined the car was illegal before being put under templates.
“The templates were never actually put on the car,” Knaus said during his media appearance at Phoenix International Raceway. “It was a visual inspection at that point. We never even got the opportunity to actually present that under templates. It is unfortunate, there is a bit of subjectiveness to it and that is why we are going through the appeal.”
Knaus said that would be brought up during the appeal, saying they would, “just have to talk about it at that point. NASCAR does a good job; they have a good set-up structure and a good set of standards that are in black and white, some areas that are not.”
Knaus is relieved that it is over, feeling vindicated to a degree, but wishes the fine was also erased. He adds that he was torn up and shocked at the penalty as the car was inside the rules, saying, “We were 100 percent compliant with the rules.”
A lot of people felt the penalties were directed towards the No. 48 team due to their reputation. Knaus says that he’s not worried about his reputation, but the personal digs did hurt.
NASCAR says that they will respect the ruling that Middlebrook has delivered.
“We believe in this process,” NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp says. “I don’t think we made any mistakes. Our inspection process speaks for itself. It has worked very, very well in the garage for many years and it will work for many years to come.”
Now with the points given back and with the No. 48 team now sittings 11th in points, 36 behind Greg Biffle, Knaus is ready to get on with the season.
“I’m stoked,” he says. “I’m excited. I can’t wait to get to Fontana.”