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NASCAR’s John Middlebrook Confronted With Another ‘Gray Area’ Appeal in Penske Case?

By admin | May 6, 2013


By Richard Allen

Last year in preparation for the Daytona 500, the No. 48 team of Jimmie Johnson was caught with what NASCAR inspectors called unapproved modifications to the C-posts of their Chevrolet. Series officials came down hard by levying a 25 point penalty for the driver and car owner(Hendrick Motorsports/Jeff Gordon) as well as a $100,000 fine on crew chief Chad Knaus. Also, six week suspensions were handed down for Knaus and car chief Ron Malec.

However, the team went through the appeals process by arguing that the so-called infraction was actually not specifically addressed in the rule book. Thus, they argued, the modifications fit into the mysterious ‘gray area’ that lies somewhere outside the black and white written codes. But a three-member appeals commission did not see things Hendrick’s way and upheld the punishment.

The NASCAR appeals process allows for one more step. The sanctioning body’s Chief Appellate Officer can hear the case and rule on the penalties in whatever way he sees fit. Former General Motors executive John Middlebrook holds that position.

When the Johnson/Knaus case came to Middlebrook, he decided to overturn the two most crucial elements of the initial penalty. The suspensions of Knaus and Malec were lifted and the points reduction against the driver and team were taken away. The fine on Knaus was left in place in a seemingly two-sided ruling.

Now, Middlebrook appears to have a similar situation in front of him.

During a pre-race inspection for the Sprint Cup race at the Texas Motor Speedway, the Penske Racing cars for drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were found to have unapproved rear suspension components. Specifically, the rear end housing of those cars allowed for a “skew” and was called into question.

NASCAR vice-president of competition Robin Pemberton said that inspectors confiscated a group of pieces that surround the rear suspension. “It’s something that’s not in the spirit of the rules,” he declared of the components.

The phrasing “spirit of the rules” seems to indicate that NASCAR and Middlebrook have found themselves on the same slippery slope as in the Johnson/Knaus case. Again, it appears as if the Chief Appellate Officer will hear and decide on a situation in which an offending part, or parts, is not specifically addressed in the rule book but did not meet the liking of the technical inspectors in the garage area at TMS.

So, will Middlebrook make the same ruling as he did with the Hendrick Motorsports team? When that judgement was handed down, there was no shortage of critics who claimed that favoritism was being played between two men with General Motors ties- Rick Hendrick and John Middlebrook.

This time, the car to have failed was a Ford. And further, Keselowski had been quite outspoken regarding the “skew” of the Hendrick cars just before his own machine was ruled against.

Middlebrook will hear the case regarding the Penske infractions on Tuesday, May 7th.

Should the CAO rule against the team and in favor of NASCAR on this occasion, it will surely stir up controversy among those who accused him of playing favorites for Hendrick earlier. Should he rule in favor of the team and against NASCAR, it will surely cause some to question the sanctioning body’s rules and inspection process.

Either way, it ought to be interesting. And it would seem to be a no lose situation for NASCAR bloggers.



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5 Responses to “NASCAR’s John Middlebrook Confronted With Another ‘Gray Area’ Appeal in Penske Case?”

  1. Offkilter Says:
    May 6th, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Great article if the Penske cars had a body part in question. The 48 car problem was the c posts that didn’t “look” right. Nothing really wrong except they just don’t look right. Nascar has specific rules for the rear end skew and how they don’t want the rotating of the suspension in the rear to add to that in the turns.
    If there was a car that ever needed to be looked at it is jgr’s # 20 plate track car. That is the only car this year that can steam roll up the middle lane to the lead without help at the plate tracks. And it aint the driver or he would have won last night with that car.

  2. Tony Geinzer Says:
    May 7th, 2013 at 7:44 am

    I would not want to be dummy again, Rich and trust me, I would rather want to uphold or double the preexisting suspensions because it floors me that people would act like Beetlejuice in order to get “their” way, and if you appeal a Suspension and we’ve both been around plenty of teachers and leaders to know this: YOUR STILL SUSPENDED! End Of Discussion.

  3. Sue Rarick Says:
    May 7th, 2013 at 9:26 am

    I’ll say the same thing I did last year with the #48. If Nascar is going to heavily fine a car they had better have verifiable proof that the car was illegal. “It doesn’t look right” is NOT verifiable proof.

    Last year a simple comb gauge and a reference point would have been all they needed to prove their point and they didn’t do it, hense the #48 got off.

    This year with the # 2 and 22 I will give them the benifit of doubt given Nascars track record of incompetence.

    Nascar’s big problem is the air of secrecy. They have that secret hand shake mentality that puts a veil of doubt over anything they do.

  4. RC Says:
    May 7th, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Kudos to the Penske teams for testing the grey areas and if the appeals fall flat so be it.
    What I am starting to wunder is Robin Pemberton turning into Jabba the Hutt?

  5. Offkilter Says:
    May 7th, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Roger Penske says he’s very happy with outcome of the Middlebrook ruling. All penalties remain except the team members suspensions reduced from 6 to 2 races. Gray area my butt. They got caught.