It’s often said in racing that if competitors aren’t cheating, they’re not trying.
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In NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, no one "tries" as hard as crew chief Chad Knaus.
Let’s face it: The leader of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team is a chronic … um … innovator.
All right, if NASCAR held regular meetings for Cheaters Anonymous, Knaus’ testimonial would sound something like this: "Hello, my name is Chad and I’m a cheater. In the offseason, I exhausted every gray area in the NASCAR rule book, so I went to Africa for inspiration. When I returned, I thought, ‘Hmmm, how about the C-Posts? If I stretch the C-Posts a little bit and lower the deck lid, just imagine the drag I could lose on the left side of the car.’ "
While Knaus’ past creations are legendary, the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet never even made it to technical inspection on Thursday. NASCAR confiscated the C-Posts from the rear window of the Daytona 500 car earmarked for five-time champion Jimmie Johnson before the formal inspection process even began.
"The 48 car had a body modification on it that was outside of what our tolerances are, what the original surface definitions for the body were," Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said.
"There were some obvious modifications that the template inspectors picked up on and did some additional inspections with some gauges and stuff and found that they were just too far out of tolerance to fix.
"We’re pretty serious about the body configurations of the cars for all of the right reasons. This was a modification that had been made to the car that put it outside that box."
Yes, Knaus is a repeat offender. And this isn’t his first bad-boy rodeo at the beach. In 2006, Knaus was suspended for four weeks following Johnson’s qualifying run after NASCAR discovered someone had tinkered with the car’s rear window.
Then there were the front fenders on the Nos. 48 and 24 cars at Sonoma in June 2007. That modification earned Knaus and partner in crime Steve Letarte (then crew chief for the No. 24 Chevrolet) a six-race vacation and a $100,000 fine.
And who could forget Hendrick Motorsports’ attempt to put the 2009 Chase field to sleep at Dover, where the Nos. 48 and 5 Chevrolets were so close to the tolerances that NASCAR took both back to the Research and Development Center for review. Knaus escaped with a warning and went on to win his fourth of five Sprint Cup championships.
None of Knaus’ peers seemed surprised by his latest feat, nor did they blame Knaus for testing the tolerances.
"He pushes the limit — that’s what you’re supposed to do," said Pat Tryson, crew chief of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford.
"It doesn’t surprise me. That’s why they’ve been so successful. They’re willing to be aggressive and try to do things that other people aren’t doing. With success, sometimes every now and then you’ll get bit. But I’m sure they’ll continue to do it, ’cause that’s why they won five championships.
"It doesn’t bother you that you didn’t go that far. I guess it bothers you that you don’t have the car owner that will let you take the chance to get in trouble and then you have to risk losing a sponsor or getting fired.
"Fortunately, he works for a guy who is loyal to him and the sponsor doesn’t get upset when they get caught doing it, so it’s OK. Not everybody is in that situation. Everybody isn’t in the same box. I’m glad he does it. That’s what a crew chief gets paid to do."
Darby said the illegal C-Posts were removed from the No. 48 Chevrolet. Before Shootout practice, the team worked to repair the C-Posts and the area around the deck lid.
"It’s not the way you want to start off the year," said Scott Miller, executive VP of competition for Michael Waltrip Racing. "I’m glad I’m not in their shoes.
"But it’s all a part of what we do. We’re out here racing and the rules are real tight. There’s not a whole lot you can do to get an advantage. (Knaus) is just more willing to get things through than most of us are. I don’t know what’s going to come of it, but nobody can afford to give up points. They might be able to pay a fine, but if it comes down to points, really nobody can afford that."
NASCAR declined to discuss what penalties could develop until after Speedweeks. Since the car never made it to inspection, the team was allowed to make modifications, and as of 9 p.m. ET on Friday — following two attempts — the car still was not deemed legal. The No. 48 crew will be allowed to work on it and try to pass inspection again on Saturday.
"After it gets through inspection, we’ll go on for the next 10 days or so and go through Speedweeks," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s VP of competition. "Like always, we’ll reconvene at the R&D center post-race and do all our cleanups for whatever happens for the next week or so."
Although Kevin Harvick has hung up his owner’s hat and doesn’t work on cars anymore, he supports a crew chief’s quest to be resourceful, especially when it benefits the driver.
"They’ve got to let these guys be creative," Harvick said. "That’s what this sport was built on — people being creative and working in that gray area. You get in trouble, you just fix it."
And if you’re Chad Knaus, you live to race another day.