From the moment NASCAR confiscated the C-posts from Jimmie Johnson's Daytona 500 car and subsequently stated that a penalty was likely coming, Rick Hendrick maintained his boys were innocent. Tuesday, he got the verdict he sought all along.
Chief appellate officer John Middlebrook overturned NASCAR's initial ruling against the 48 team, rescinding both a six-race suspension against crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec, and the loss of 25 championship points for Jimmie Johnson.
Immediately, Johnson vaulted from 17th in the Sprint Cup standings to 11th. Just as important, he won't have to do without his crew chief for the next month and a half.
"I felt from the very beginning that we were clearly by the rulebook, within the guidelines, and the car had been seen multiple times and raced everywhere we raced in 2011," Hendrick said. "I'm just glad this over."
The facts, as much as NASCAR has revealed, are thus: Prior to Johnson's Daytona 500 car running a single lap, NASCAR officials, through a visual test, determined that the C-posts (the part of the car directly behind the side windows) were outside the measurement tolerance. NASCAR immediately confiscated the parts, prompting Hendrick to send for an airplane from team headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., to deliver new C-posts, which were welded onto Johnson's car.
Hendrick's beef from the beginning was that NASCAR relied entirely on a visual inspection, never once putting the car under the "claw" – the metal measuring device used during the inspection process – to determine if the parts in question were, in fact, outside the measurement tolerance.
Hendrick vowed to appeal, did, lost and appealed again, this time to Middlebrook, the final judge and jury in NASCAR's appeals process.
Hendrick said his appeal to Middlebrook was simple – that the car had passed multiple inspections prior to arriving in Daytona, that it hadn't been altered in between inspection and arriving at the track, so how could it have failed?
"It was inspected at the tech center on multiple occasions. It was at the tech center as late as January, and the car had not been altered. We even had one of the NASCAR officials make a comment about the car being correct, and the C-posts in the template area. We had all that documented," Hendrick explained. "So, I don't know how, looking at the rulebook, if an official says the car is right, the car is right. The car goes through the tech center and passes, it passes. If we have an affidavit that says that it hasn't been touched, it hasn't been touched. So what's the issue?"
Hendrick also noted that at least "three cars" got to work on the C-posts at Daytona. "One of them I sponsored," Hendrick said. "It got to go back through, so that was the argument that I had that we didn't get an opportunity to work on the car."
Four times Middlebrook, a former General Motors executive, has been asked to rule on a case and four times he's lowered the initial penalty.
Middlebrook did, however, uphold the $100,000 fine leveled against Knaus.
"They inspect all the cars pre-competition, which is not the norm in motor sports. So I felt like they made a mistake," Knaus said. "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 honestly."
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- Rick Hendrick
- Chad Knaus