Jimmie Johnson may be looking at Kevin Harvick for inspiration.
After completing 22 laps in last year's Daytona 500, Kevin Harvick's engine expired. He finished 42nd, but was in the top 10 in the points standings by the fifth race of the season en route to a third-place finish in the Chase.
On Monday night, Johnson crashed just after the 2012 Daytona 500's first lap completed. The damage was too extensive to repair. He too finished 42nd.
Harvick turned out to be a perfect case study for NASCAR's new 1-43 points system. Yes, a finish near the bottom of the standings can be crippling, especially as the season winds down. But he proved that it's not a disaster or cause for alarm with 35 races to go.
Now, Johnson is in the same situation, but with added layer of intrigue: a potential points penalty.
Before the first practice session of the season for the Daytona 500, the C-posts from Johnson's car were confiscated by NASCAR for modifications that were "too far out of tolerance to fix," according to Sprint Cup Series director of competition John Darby.
The following day, NASCAR president Mike Helton said that penalization for Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the No. 48 team was a "high likelihood." (NASCAR's penalty decision is expected to be announced Tuesday or Wednesday.)
Last fall at Talladega, the Michael Waltrip Racing teams were each penalized 25 points and $50,000 for illegal windshield modifications that were discovered before practice for the event began. The crew chiefs were also suspended for four weeks.
After Helton's comments, Johnson's owner, Rick Hendrick, said that he would appeal any penalty.
"Maybe you can put it together," Hendrick said when asked if the confiscation could have something to do with comments that Knaus made at prior to last fall's Talladega race, when scanners captured him telling Johnson to crack the back of the car during a postrace celebration if he won.
If 25 points is the penalty for the No. 48 team, that would mean that Johnson would enter next week's race at Phoenix with -23 points instead of 2. That wouldn't be the first time in recent memory that a NASCAR driver has entered the second week of the season with negative points — and it also involved MWR.
In 2007, Waltrip's teams were found to have had jet fuel in the intake manifolds. In addition to indefinite suspensions for his crew chief and competition director and a $100,000 fine, Waltrip was penalized 100 points and left Daytona 27 points in the red. After missing the next 11 races of the season, Waltrip finally moved into the black at Dover.
While Johnson won't have to worry about missing races anytime soon thanks to the top-35 rule that guarantees his qualifying spot for the next four races (and most likely the rest of the season), it's not totally out of the realm of possibility that he'll leave Phoenix with negative points too. Any finish of 22nd or worse means that Johnson is still in the red heading into Las Vegas.
"I'm OK," Johnson said after his crash. "I'm just really bummed out for this whole Lowe's team. To work as hard as everyone did at Hendrick Motorsports to get this Lowe's Chevrolet and to have it barely complete two-and-a-half miles of green flag racing is pretty sad. Disappointed, but nothing I can do about it now. We'll just go on and go to Phoenix and set our marks on winning that race."
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