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Six-race suspension of Knaus, Malec overturned

March 20, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- Johnson given back 25 driver points; fine, probation still stand for crew chief

NASCAR chief appellate officer John Middlebrook overturned on Tuesday an earlier ruling by the governing body that had threatened to cripple the No. 48 team of driver Jimmie Johnson for the 2012 season.

In doing so, Middlebrook rescinded the loss of 25 Sprint Cup championship driver and car owner points assessed, and also rescinded six-week suspensions levied against crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec. The only penalty that remained in place was a $100,000 fine for Knaus -- while both he and Malec will remain on probation until May 9.

"I'm glad it's over with, for sure. It's been a tough 30 days for everybody. Everyone on the No. 48 team and at Hendrick Motorsports put a lot of effort into this to prove our innocence, and it proved worthwhile."

--CHAD KNAUS

With the restoration of the 25 driver points to his total, Johnson made a jump Tuesday from 17th to 11th in the point standings heading into Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Related: Penalties rescinded on Knaus, No. 48 team

Team owner Rick Hendrick spearheaded the final appeal Tuesday, along with Knaus. They met for about six hours with Middlebrook and NASCAR officials who defended their decisions to levy the penalties in the first place -- before Middlebrook eventually made his ruling at about 3:45 p.m. ET.

"I'm glad this is over. It's been a long 30 days, I guess. I appreciate the opportunity that we were able to present all the facts," Hendrick said. "I'm happy with the outcome -- to see the points reinstated, to see Chad and all our guys reinstated. I would have liked to have seen the fine gone, too, because I don't see that there is any reason for any penalty."

Spokesman Kerry Tharp of NASCAR said the governing body stands by its inspection process, despite Middlebrook's ruling. He also said there was, by definition, a rules infraction because the $100,000 Knaus fine remained intact.

"We think the process speaks for itself, and we think it's a good, fair process," Tharp said. "I think there is still evidence that there was a rules infraction. The $100,000 fine is intact, so there was a rules infraction committed.

"I think we take on the responsibility of regulating that garage, and we take that very, very seriously. The ability for us to regulate the sport is paramount. We've got to be able to do that, and we will continue to do that, and we think the sport is better off for it."

Knaus added: "I'm glad it's over with, for sure. It's been a tough 30 days for everybody. Everyone on the No. 48 team and at Hendrick Motorsports put a lot of effort into this to prove our innocence, and it proved worthwhile."

The penalties were assessed by NASCAR prior to Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway for alleged illegal modifications to the C-posts on the No. 48 car, which could provide a race car with an aerodynamic advantage. The C-posts are supports that extend from the roof to the rear deck lid on a race car.

Knaus and Malec initially each were issued six-week suspensions. In addition, Johnson was docked 25 driver points and the team also was docked 25 owner points. (Johnson's car owner technically is fellow driver Jeff Gordon, not Hendrick).

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet, had said last Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway that he remained "optimistic" the penalties would be reduced or possibly even overturned altogether. After having an initial appeal denied by a three-member NASCAR appeals board on March 13, Tuesday's appeal was the final such opportunity for Hendrick Motorsports to make that happen.

Johnson's reason for optimism stemmed from the fact that Middlebrook, a former General Motors executive, had prior to Tuesday reduced suspensions in all three appeals he had heard since being appointed to his current position in 2010. In only one of those cases did the penalties being appealed involve points as well as suspensions, however, and in that case Middlebrook did not reduce the points penalty.

Hendrick said his company produced "about 20 photos" and 10-15 pages of detailed documentation proving that they had attempted to comply with NASCAR regulations regarding the C-posts at every turn. Knaus earlier contended that the same C-post configuration had been run on the No. 48 car on all four restrictor-plate races last season, and that each time the car had passed multiple inspections both at the track and at NASCAR's R&D Center.

Hendrick said his team also argued there were other cars at Daytona whose C-posts were called into question during visual inspections and that NASCAR allowed those teams to then work on their cars before presenting them for inspection again. He said the No. 48 car was not given that same opportunity -- and insisted that the car had not been altered in any way after passing a detailed inspection at the R&D Center itself in January, prior to taking the car to Daytona in February.

Asked if he felt vindicated, Knaus said: "To a degree. Obviously we're not very happy about the fine. That's an awful lot of money for something that really, obviously, proved to be OK. So that hurts a little bit.

"But it's not about vindication. It's over with. Now it's time to move on and get our focus back on trying to make the Chase and seeing what we can do with the No. 48 team again."

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