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Knaus tries to explain latest misdeed
Chad Knaus’ latest innovations on the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet were not received well by NASCAR.
The C-posts (the sheet metal between the roof and the rear deck lid) on the team’s Daytona 500 car were ruled to violate three sections of the NASCAR rulebook this week: actions detrimental to stock-car racing, race equipment not conforming to rules and unapproved body modifications used to enhance aerodynamic advantage.
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On Wednesday, the sanctioning body responded to Hendrick Motorsports by slapping Knaus and car chief Ron Malec with a six-week suspension, the loss of 25 owner and driver points and $100,000 fine.
Is NASCAR finally sending the message that enough is enough?
“That’s a fine line to balance there because I’m one of those guys that thinks innovation is what has made this sport what it is,” said former team owner and current driver Kevin Harvick.
“And there’s a fine balance between where you cross the line and where you don’t. The only way to find out is to push things to the limit and see if you get away with it.
“But I don’t make the rules, so it’s not something that I have the choice of saying, you should have done this, or should have done that. They make the rules. They make the law. And everybody has to abide by it. But the crew chiefs, that’s their job. And sometimes they cross the line and you’ve got to find that line. So, it’s part of it.”
Friday at Phoenix International Raceway, Knaus said he was “deeply saddened” by NASCAR’s penalty. He also feigned disbelief that NASCAR could levy such a harsh fine when the five-time championship team was simply trying to “build the best race cars we possibly can to bring to the race track.”
“That is what we do,” Knaus said. “Unfortunately, they didn’t like something and we have to address that. It definitely was not foreseen.”
And not surprisingly, Hendrick Motorsports will appeal. Knaus already is lobbying that — since the inspectors deemed the car was illegal by “visual inspection” and never placed templates on the car to measure the improprieties — NASCAR’s call was not objective.
“It is unfortunate, there is a bit of subjectiveness to it, and that is why we are going through the appeal,” Knaus said. “NASCAR does a good job. They have a good set-up structure and a good set of standards that are in black and white, some areas that are not.”
And if ever there was a master of discovering the “are not” areas, it would be Knaus.
One needs a scorecard to keep up with his infractions in 2002, 2003 (twice), 2005 (but his suspension was overturned on appeal), 2006 (four-race suspension), 2007 (six-race suspension) and 2009 (during the Chase, when ther Cup Series director called Knaus’ handywork “close to the tolerances” but never penalized the Nos. 5 or 48 Hendrick Motorsports teams).
Oh, and there was the directive last October at Talladega not to bring the car back in one piece, but alas, we’ll never know what evolution of genius Knaus had discovered.
Although no crew chief has manipulated the rulebook to the degree of Knaus, he refused to acknowledge whether he was under additional scrutiny due to his past discretions or whether the repeated offenses tarnished his standing.
“Honestly, I’m here to do the best I can No. 48 team, and that is all that really matters to me,” Knaus said. “As far as my reputation goes, I’m not too concerned about that. What we want to do is go out there and do the best thing we can for Hendrick Motorsports, the best thing for Lowe’s and try to win races and championships.”
Knaus and Malec will remain at the track until the case has been appealed — and that’s a good thing for Jimmie Johnson, who, given the 25-point penalty, is now 23 markers in the negative after finishing 42nd at Daytona.
But when it comes to searching for answers from the team’s innovations, Johnson has adopted a "don’t ask, don’t tell policy.''
“There is a lot of work that goes into these race cars,” Johnson said. “I have all the confidence in the world, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports on the No. 48 team and across the board. We are building race cars to go to the race track and win races with. I believe in our system, I believe in my team, I believe in my guys, it is what it is. We are here to race and win the race this weekend.”
Johnson chose to keep the appellate strategy close to the vest and concentrate on racing.
“The appeal process is under way, as we all know,” Johnson said. “Through that process there will be a lot of facts presented to NASCAR on our behalf. At this point in time, I just can’t share or get into an in-depth discussion about what those are. I need to go through the process; the team needs to go through the process. I’m clearly not a part of it I’m just the driver.”
Knaus didn’t seem concerned about the ability of the No. 48 team to spring back from this latest setback. While a date for the appeal has not been set, there’s a sense of urgency with both parties to get the situation resolved.
And should the 25-point penalty stick?
“I think it is going to make it exciting,” Knaus said. “That is one thing that we typically try to do here with the No. 48 team. We somehow or another we seem to get through adversity pretty well. I’m not saying we like a challenge like this, but I’m pretty sure we will rise to the occasion.”
Yes, Knaus has been slapped by the iron hand of NASCAR more than any crew chief over the last decade. And NASCAR can set the tone for the garage with its ultimate decision. But regardless of what happens, Knaus will always find his way back to the track to win another day.