The first time I heard about the penalties that NASCAR had assessed the Hendrick Motorsports team of Jimmie Johnson, I said how can you throw somebody out before you go through the proper processes.
If you folks remember with the C-posts on the team’s car, NASCAR eyed those prior to opening-day inspection at Daytona International Speedway and made a decision before the car was in the template room. After the sanctioning body deemed the part unacceptable, crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec were each issued six-race suspensions, Knaus was fined $100,000, and Jimmie Johnson and car owner Jeff Gordon were assessed 25-point driver and owner point penalties. All but the $100,000 fine were overturned when the final appeal was heard before National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook on Tuesday.
I felt like all along the whole crux of the matter was did NASCAR do something wrong catching them doing something wrong, and I felt like the way NASCAR went about what they did at the track — said it didn’t look right and allowed Johnson’s team to fix it there at the track — there were so many things that, to me, I would have appealed right to the last appeal because of the way they handled the whole thing.
I just never felt good about fining somebody, penalizing somebody, before you go through all the channels, before you go through all the processes at the track. Take me in the template room and put the templates on the car and say, “Look, here’s where you’re off, here’s where you’re wrong.” The car never got off the jackstands.
Is this a lesson for NASCAR when it comes to future penalties? I think it is. I really think it will make them — it’s like not reading someone their Miranda rights, is kind of what it reminded of. You just said, “It didn’t look right, it’s wrong, and oh by the way, you’re fined 25 points, you’re suspended six races and the whole nine yards.” That was just the drop of the hammer.
It was a unique situation. My experience has been, when an official walks up to your car before it’s ever taken through inspection and says,” I don’t like that” and they point right at something, they’ve been given a heads-up.
Now, it’s time for everyone to move forward. Here’s the thing that is so great. We have this process and every time that there’s something that is the magnitude of this — whether it’s a pothole in the racetrack, whether it’s a jet dryer getting hit and bursting into flames — every time we go through one of these process, everybody benefits.