News & Media

Knaus, No. 48 team down to final appeal

March 20, 2012, David Caraviello,

Last opportunity to get penalty overturned or reduced comes Tuesday

Chad Knaus is down to his last stand.

The crew chief on Jimmie Johnson's team should find out Tuesday whether he will have to serve all or part of the six-week suspension handed down by NASCAR for illegal body modifications made to the No. 48 car prior to the Daytona 500. A final appeal of Knaus' suspension and other penalties levied for the Daytona infractions is slated to be heard at the NASCAR Research and Development Center by John Middlebrook, the chief appellate officer of the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel.

Ruling not appealing

An appeals board ruled in favor of the penalties levied against the No. 48 team, leaving owner Rick Hendrick with one more option.

Knaus' Hendrick Motorsports team lost a preliminary appeal last week to a three-member board from the appeals panel, but NASCAR's appeals system allows the team one final plea. Knaus has been working in the interim pending the appeals process, but if NASCAR's penalty is upheld Tuesday, the crew chief would be forced to sit beginning with this weekend's event at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California.

"If things stand, it will be a huge blow to the team," Johnson said last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. "I feel like we can work through it and still have a chance to win races, but it would be very difficult."

In initial inspection prior to the Daytona 500, officials confiscated the No. 48 car's C-pillars -- the posts that run from the roof to the rear deck lid -- for allegedly being modified to give the vehicle an aerodynamic advantage. Although the car never made it onto the race track with the parts in question, the sanctioning body still came down hard. Knaus and car chief Ron Malec were each suspended six races, Knaus was fined $100,000, and Johnson was docked 25 driver points.

Hendrick Motorsports has argued the car in question has competed in other restrictor-plate races, and passed inspection on those weekends without incident. Hendrick and team vice president, Ken Howes, made that argument last week to a three-person appeals panel comprised of Leo Mehl, a former executive at Goodyear and the Indy Racing League; Dale Pinilis, operator of Bowman Gray Stadium, a short track in Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Jon Capels, former chairman of the United States Auto Club. The trio unanimously upheld NASCAR's penalties.

Now the team's case comes down to a final appeal to Middlebrook, a retired General Motors executive who has a long relationship with Hendrick, who fields Chevrolets in NASCAR and operates a number of car dealerships. In 2010, Middlebrook reduced a monetary fine and a suspension levied against the crew chief of Clint Bowyer's former No. 33 team at Richard Childress Racing, but upheld a points deduction.

"I have hope that this next appeal will be heard and we will have a different outcome," Johnson said. "There is no telling how it is all going to shake out."

If the penalties are not overturned or reduced, Knaus and Malec will sit out until the May 12 event at Darlington Raceway, and the No. 48 team will need to find someone else to call the next six races. And Johnson would remain 17th in the Sprint Cup standings, thanks to a penalty that left him with negative points in the immediate aftermath of the Daytona 500.

"I feel like that Hendrick Motorsports definitely feels like there is a reason to be appealing, or we wouldn't be taking this next step," said Jeff Gordon, who is the listed owner of Johnson's No. 48 car. "Whatever the decision that is made, we will live with it and move on. We feel like we are in the right and [NASCAR] feel like they are, and that's why there is an appeal process."