With the stroke of a pen, Jimmie Johnson jumped six spots Tuesday to 11th in the Sprint Cup Series standings when the majority of his penalties for unapproved modifications at the Daytona 500 were reduced by NASCAR’s Chief Appellate Officer.
John Middlebrook, who retired after 49 years as the vice president from General Motors, didn’t offer any explanation for dropping the six-week suspensions for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec and resending Johnson’s 25-point penalty. He did, however, upheld the team’s $100,000 fine.
Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet now is 36 points behind series leader Greg Biffle.
Hendrick Motorsports lost its appeal last week of sanctions placed against them after NASCAR found altered C-posts – the area on the side of the car beside the door window and between the trunk and the roof – before qualifying at the Daytona International Speedway. The sanctioning body said the side of the car was pushed out, presumably to deflect air from the rear spoiler to reduce drag.
Car owner Rick Hendrick, Knaus and Malec argued in their final appeal Tuesday the same car was used in all four races at Daytona and its sister track at Talladega, Ala. They also said other teams were allowed to repair C-posts during the inspection process.
Last year at the Talladega Superspeedway, Knaus was seen on an in-car camera telling Johnson to “crack” the back end of the same car if he won.
By not throwing out the fine, Middlebrook apparently felt the car wasn’t legal, but not bad enough to warrant stiff penalties.
There have been 14 cases sent to the Chief Appellate Office for a final appeal since 1999. Only one penalty has been completely overturned. Tuesday’s ruling was the fifth time a sanction has been reduced.
Knaus has been suspended before. He was sent home for two races in 2006 for using tricked rear springs jack bolts that pushed the rear window up to deflect air off the rear window at Daytona. And in 2007, he was suspended for six races for pushing out the front fenders to help with aerodynamics on the road course at Sonoma, Calif.
Although Knaus will be allowed to accompany the team for this Sunday’s AAA 400 at the Auto Club Speedway in Southern California, he still wasn’t happy about paying a fine.
“But it’s not about vindication,” he told reporters after the hearing. “It’s over with. It’s time to move on.”