NASCAR has spoken, and justice comes with a hammer. Chad Knaus and Ron Malec, crew chief and car chief of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, have been suspended for six races because of violations discovered on Jimmie Johnson's car before the Daytona 500. Knaus was also fined $100,000.
The penalty also includes a 25-point fine, which, combined with Johnson's two-point total at Daytona, means Johnson is now at -23 points for the season and already almost two full races behind points leader Matt Kenseth.
This likely won't have a dramatic impact on Johnson's Chase chances; he has plenty of time to make up the difference, and will almost certainly win a race or two to put himself in position for the wild card. Still, starting from this far behind isn't the way Johnson would have wanted to begin his drive to regain his throne.
Hendrick Motorsports immediately appealed the penalty, meaning Knaus and Malec will be at the race track in Phoenix this weekend.
Indeed, news of Hendrick's appeal hit many social networks before the initial news of the sanctions. "Our organization respects NASCAR and the way the sanctioning body governs our sport," Rick Hendrick said in a statement. "In this case, though, the system broke down, and we will voice our concerns through the appeal process." Hendrick further noted that there would be no personnel changes planned during the appeal. No word yet on who will crew the car until Knaus returns.
NASCAR determined that the 48 car violated several regulations prohibiting modifications to the car. In this case, the problem was the "C posts," the columns that come down from the roof of the car to the rear quarter panel. NASCAR officials determined from a visual inspection that the C-posts were too far out of tolerances, which could have led to an aerodynamic advantage.
The question, of course, is whether this penalty is actually for those C posts, or is this the sanctioning body's equivalent of a make-up call, tagging Knaus for all those times that he may or may not have pushed the envelope without getting caught. A visual inspection isn't definitive, and you wouldn't expect someone as knowledgeable as Knaus to make that kind of an error.
Knaus has run afoul of NASCAR before, most famously in 2006 when he was suspended during Johnson's Daytona 500 win. And as recently as last fall, Knaus told Johnson to "crack the back of the car" if he won at Talladega.
Still, he'll have plenty of time to consider his decisions, and Johnson will have plenty of work to do while he's gone.
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