Rick Hendrick says five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and his team got a raw deal from NASCAR last week when the sanctioning body confiscated the C posts from Johnson’s Lowe’s Chevrolet. The Hendrick Motorsports owner told ESPN the parts in question were used in all four races at Daytona and Talladega last season, without ever being flagged by NASCAR.
"We've run it four times,'' claimed Hendrick. "It was built for this place and they never touched the roof. Our guys swear they have not touched the roof on the car. All that's been done is paint it, so I don't get it.''
In addition to passing repeated at-track inspections, Hendrick said the car also went to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center following Johnson’s spring victory at Talladega, and was given a clean bill of health. NASCAR officials say the pieces in question were illegally modified to provide Johnson with an aerodynamic advantage; enough to make them visibly different to the naked eye of inspectors.
For the record, Hendrick admits the car in question is the same one Knaus instructed Johnson to damage if he won last fall’s Talladega race, in an attempt to disguise undisclosed ( and likely illegal) modifications.
If Hendrick is correct in his claim, NASCAR has either been slipshod in its previous inspections of the No. 48 car – or worse – has adopted an arbitrary and capricious attitude of hyper-attention when it comes to Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus. That’s a serious accusation; one that some segments of NASCAR Nation will accept at face value, with or without concrete evidence to prove it.
|Hendrick Stands By His Man|
If NASCAR is correct, it’s another black mark on Knaus’ competitive resume’; a violation that Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby said could be egregious enough to warrant the third multi-race suspension of Knaus’ career. Hendrick acknowledged that this is the same car Knaus was caught on film prior to the October Talladega race telling Johnson to damage the rear end of, if he won.
There have already been hours of radio airtime and gallons of ink devoted to the issue, with more sure to follow in the coming days. Unfortunately, the question of whether Johnson’s car passed previous inspections is entirely moot. There is no way of proving whether the C-posts in question were inspected by NASCAR prior to being presented in the Daytona Tech Line last week. Hendrick can’t prove they were, NASCAR can’t prove they weren’t.And in the end, it doesn’t really matter, since after multiple readings of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rulebook, I have yet to find the clause that says, “If you slip something past NASCAR, it becomes legal.”
If Jimmie Johnson drove an illegal race car four times last season -- winning once –- congratulations to Hendrick Motorsports and Chad Knaus for slipping one past the cops. Congratulations to the cops for not letting it happen again here at Daytona.
The debate between “creative engineering” and “outright cheating” is as old as the sport itself, and nothing that happens in the next seven days will do anything to resolve it. Chad Knaus is paid handsomely to exploit every advantage he can find, within the rules. Rick Hendrick will support his crew chief in every way possible, especially when that support could help lessen the length of a potential suspension, or lower the severity of a fine.
NASCAR says penalties – if any – will not be announced until after Sunday’s Daytona 500. Hendrick said he will meet with NASCAR before then to make his case.
It appears this debate is far from over.