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Notes: How will NASCAR handle oil pan dilemma?

June 18, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Pit crew still up for change on No. 48; Hornish looking at Nationwide Series

Will Joe Gibbs Racing get its second consecutive points penalty, or will NASCAR issue a slap on the wrist for the unapproved oil pans found on all three JGR Cup cars during opening-day inspection Friday at Michigan International Speedway?

On Monday, NASCAR docked Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs each six driver and owner points, respectively, and fined crew chief Dave Rogers $25,000 when Busch's third-place car measured too low in the left front during post-race inspection last Sunday at Pocono.

Not so happy

After having his oil pan confiscated, Joey Logano lost his engine early in Happy Hour.

On Friday, Cup Series director John Darby told the Gibbs teams, which had not submitted the oil pans for approval before mounting them on their engines, to replace the offending oil pans with approved parts before Friday's first practice.

The teams complied, and the unapproved oil pans, which at 25-30 pounds were significantly heavier than those commonly in use, sat on display in the NASCAR hauler for other organizations to inspect. One important note: There are no weight restrictions on oil pans in the NASCAR rulebook, but NASCAR reserves the right to reject parts it finds questionable.

Because the oil pans never saw competition, NASCAR seems inclined to treat the offense as a simple failure to submit a part for approval. It's clear, however, that a heavier oil pan can provide a performance advantage by lowering the center of gravity and helping a car turn through the corners.

NASCAR should be wary of hanging its hat on the fact the oil pans were never used on-track, as Jeff Gordon pointed out Friday afternoon on his Twitter account.

"All I'm going to say about Gibbs cars oil pan is that we had 100-point penalty for a flared left front fender that never went on track," Gordon wrote.

The reference was to the 2007 penalties Gordon's and Jimmie Johnson's teams drew for body infractions at Sonoma -- penalties that included $100,000 fines and six-week suspensions to their respective crew chiefs, Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus.

Against that backdrop, the Cup garage is waiting attentively for the disposition of the oil pan issue.

Pit crew still an open question for Johnson

On a given Monday, Johnson doesn't know which crew members will pit his car the following Sunday -- but that's by design.

Despite winning their fifth consecutive Cup Series championship last year, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus felt there was room for improvement in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. The pit crew was one of the areas that needed a fresh approach.

In fact, issues on pit road at Texas last fall proved the final straw for Knaus, who borrowed Jeff Gordon's over-the-wall crew for the rest of the Chase, which Johnson ultimately won.

During the offseason, Knaus held a minicamp for prospective crew members, and competition for starting spots on Sunday has continued throughout the season.

"The situation Chad created is that he's really trying not to have a first string, second string," Johnson said. "You earn your position during the week in practices and prove that you're the fastest guy that week and can do the best job that week going over the wall.

"I know every guy on the team; I train with them now and am in there on Tuesday's working out with them so that we can form a tighter bond together. I see a lot of good things happening, and I know that they're working very hard for that coveted position to go over the wall and change or carry [tires] or jack the car."

Hornish happy to race Nationwide

Not quite a half-season removed from a full-time ride with Penske Racing in the Cup Series, Sam Hornish Jr. says he'd be happy to run a full schedule in the Nationwide Series.

"We're working really hard to be back full time," Hornish said after earning the second starting sport for Saturday's Nationwide race at Michigan. "I like the Nationwide Series. I like the way the cars run and race. It's a lot of fun. I wouldn't have any qualms about being here full time."

Hornish, the 2006 winner of the Indianapolis 500, is running a limited Nationwide schedule for Penske with Alliance Truck Parts as his primary sponsor.