Hendrick avoids penalty despite inspection issue
Chad Knaus is the top "innovator" in NASCAR racing.
Among some racers, that's a badge of honor. Among others, it's just a polite way of saying the three-time Sprint Cup champion crew chief has never met a rule he couldn't "interpret."
— Jeff Hammond, FOXSports.com
Consider this week's hullabaloo following the AAA 400 at Dover.
Word circulated Wednesday night that NASCAR had found issues with Knaus' No. 48 Chevrolet (as well as Mark Martin's No. 5 car) during inspection at the Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. The two Hendrick Motorsports teams currently sit atop the points standings.
Knaus getting the hairy eyeball from NASCAR? Color us unsurprised. After all, this is the same "Magician" who has received fines from NASCAR ranging from a slap on the wrist for using inappropriate language, to four weeks at the house after officials discovered an unapproved template modification to the rear window area for the 2006 Daytona 500, to the gonzo six-week vacation after the 2007 Sonoma race when the front fender was modified outside of NASCAR's rulebook.
Needless to say, cell phones lit up over this latest "interpretation."
The buzz within the NASCAR community suggests that the offset on the tail, which helps the rear of the car stick to the ground instead of spinning out, of the No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet just made the tolerance. Alan Gustafson, pit boss for the No. 5, has been popped just once — at Talladega in 2005 for an unapproved right-side window. Compared to Knaus, Gustafson is Mr. Clean.
But that No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet ... let's see. There's no doubt Jimmie Johnson had the dominant car at Dover. He led three times for a total of 271 laps and spanked teammate Martin at the finish line by nearly two seconds.
NASCAR allows a tolerance of 0.070 of an inch for the body off of the center line of the car. Suffice it to say, it appears Knaus pushed the limits again. But by how much? NASCAR claims it was .006 over the tolerance. That's about the thickness of two sheets of copier paper. Others in the garage hint at a charitable disposition on the part of the sanctioning body.
"You can get through inspection with quite a lot," said a crew chief who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "You can skew the grid. Back at the tech center is a whole different deal. You're busted. There's no way around it. So you just don't do it. It just seems weird that two cars from Hendrick Motorsports were questionable. If it had been me, I would have been suspended for six weeks."
But Knaus escapes with a warning.
So I asked a few crew chiefs to explain just how much of an advantage would a modification of this nature be to the cars. One sage offered this description:
"We put the bodies on the old cars with the tail to the right because we discovered in the wind tunnel that the more yaw that was in the body the more (rear side-force and rear) downforce it made. Bill France Jr., hated how they looked so he made sure the COT rules were more restrictive. That's when we came with the rear-end housings that put the car in yaw due to rear steer.
"As a result ... NASCAR came up with inspection gauges that limit what you can do with the housing. It would appear that these guys got a little enthusiastic with the body because we are now restricted with the rear housing and how much we are limited by NASCAR on total yaw."
So how did NASCAR view the situation with the Hendrick cars?
"The 48 and 5 were brought back to the (Research and Development Center)," according to a NASCAR statement. "We've been doing this since the inception of the new car as a part of routine post-race inspection. We bring the winner and a random pick back to the R&D Center after each event.
"While both cars passed postrace inspection, we informed the 48 and 5 they were extremely close on some of the tolerances."
So what is "close"? Who knows? What happens in the NASCAR R&D Center has a tendency to stay in the NASCAR R&D Center — until loose lips start stirring ... stuff.