By admin | March 21, 2012
By Richard Allen
On Tuesday, the Chief Appellate Officer for NASCAR, John Middlebrook, ruled that the initial penalty levied by the sanctioning body against Hendrick Motorsports’ #48 car was too harsh. The CAO removed a 25 point reduction from Jimmie Johnson’s driver total as well as HMS(Jeff Gordon listed as owner) total in the owner standings. Also taken away were six week suspensions issued to crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec.
The only portion of the original penalty to withstand the Middlebrook decision was a $100,000 fine against Knaus.
But the fact that the decision was essentially a split of the original sanction raises questions. Was the car legal or illegal? If the car was indeed legal, then why was the fine left in place? If it was not legal, then why were the suspensions removed and the points given back?
The car could not have been both legal and illegal yet the Middlebrook ruling gives that impression.
What this appellate ruling really revealed is that there is a flaw in the NASCAR rulebook or the inspection process, or both. The rule in question is not written in definite terms and there is no template to fit the supposed offending body piece.
As has been widely reported, the #48 car arrived in Daytona with C-posts, the body pieces that extend down from the roof of the car to its rear quarter panels, that were deemed by on site inspectors to be outside allowable tolerances. However, the car did fit the templates at the track.
The violation in question refers to Section 20-2.1(E) of the rulebook. It states that “If in the judgment of NASCAR Officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance, will not be permitted: Unapproved car body modifications.”
The key word in the statement above is judgment. It is no doubt there where Knaus and Hendrick made their strongest case against the ruling. And more, the phrase “not previously approved by NASCAR” would have provided leeway. HMS insisted that the car had passed the more rigorous inspection at NASCAR’s R&D Center in North Carolina and that it had been raced in the same condition multiple times during the 2011 season. It could very easily be construed that the offending parts had been approved by NASCAR upon the car’s pass through the R&D Center.
It seems a little unlikely that a team such as HMS took a car to the biggest race of the season that had not been touched since last year but if it is true that the car had passed through the R&D Center with those same C-posts, it certainly looks like the track inspection crew was out to prove a point or the R&D inspection crew is incompetent. Either is really bad.
Ultimately, the bottom line is that this ruling points to a flaw in the NASCAR inspection process. Something is either wrong at the R&D Center or the track and it needs to be corrected. Otherwise, there will be more embarrassing judgments against the organization that is supposed to be in charge of seeing that everything is on the up and up.
Here’s why the Knaus fine remained after other penalties were taken away(imo) http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1730
From February 29- Penalties against Knaus and 48 team were too severe http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1707
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