DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson has yet to run a single lap in the 2012 season, and already his team is in trouble.
On Friday at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR discovered a body modification that was "outside of what our tolerances are," according to director of competition John Darby. The "C" post – shown in the picture to the right where the word "Stanley" is printed – was confiscated from Johnson's Daytona 500 car.
"It was an obvious modification that the template inspectors picked up on," explained Darby. "We did some additional inspections and found that they were too far out of tolerance to fix."
No penalties were immediately announced. NASCAR officials said they will wait until after the Feb. 26 Daytona 500 to determine if Johnson and his team will be penalized, with vice president of competition Robin Pemberton saying, "There's always a potential."
(Update: NASCAR president Mike Helton told the Associated Press that a penalty is "highly likely.")
"Not the best way to start Speedweeks with this topic but we'll see," Johnson told Yahoo! Sports. "We still have a chance. What has happened takes nothing away from our ability to win the race here. Not a bit. It's just a pre-tech thing. They find stuff on cars all the time and take them away, and we are one of those guys."
The C posts of the other three Hendrick Motorsports cars – Jeff Gordon's No. 24, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 88 and Kasey Kahne's No. 5 – passed inspection.
Hendrick Motorsports immediately sent for a plane to bring a new C post from its headquarters in North Carolina to Daytona. The parts were expected to arrive late Friday afternoon, be installed and ready for Johnson to use the same car for Sunday's Daytona 500 qualifying. [Update: As of 5 p.m. ET, the parts had arrived and were being installed on Johnson's car.]
The C post is an area of the car that the team allows individual crew chiefs to work on, said Ken Howes, vice president of competition for Hendrick Motorsports. When asked if there is a competition advantage to be gained by modifying the C post, Howes said there was.
"Hell of a way to start the 2012 season," Howes said. "We allow the crew chiefs to make decisions on parts of the car that they think will work. … We thought that they'd make the right decision, and obviously in this case, they didn't."
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This is not the first time Johnson's team has found trouble at Daytona. In 2006, crew chief Chad Knaus was ejected from the track after the 48 car failed post-qualifying inspection in the rear-window area. Johnson went on to win the Daytona 500 six days later.
Pemberton said the difference between that incident and this one is that the 2006 infraction came after the car had gone through inspection, while this infraction was discovered during the initial inspection.
"Any body work area, everybody's always working at," explained Howes. "It's an area that you'll go as far as you can because it will affect the performance of the car. That's the nature of this kind of racing, especially at Daytona. That's an area where teams will work, and the 48 obviously went too far."
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