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Appellate officer overturns Knaus’ suspension

NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, left, and crew chief Chad Knaus could breathe easier after Tuesday’s ruling. (Associated Press)
NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, left, and crew chief Chad Knaus could breathe easier after Tuesday’s ruling. (Associated Press)
Jenna Fryer Associated Press

CONCORD, N.C. – NASCAR’s chief appellate officer overturned on Tuesday the bulk of the penalties levied against five-time championship winning crew chief Chad Knaus, who still must pay a $100,000 fine because Jimmie Johnson’s car failed the opening day inspection of the Daytona 500.

Chief appellate officer John Middlebrook overturned the six-race suspensions NASCAR handed down to Knaus and car chief Ron Malec, and ruled both instead will be on probation through May 9.

Middlebrook also reinstated the 25 points that Johnson had been docked. The decision moves Johnson to 11th in the season standings heading into Sunday’s race at California.

“It’s been a tough 30 days,” Knaus said. “It’s not about vindication. It’s time to move on.”

Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick have maintained the No. 48 Chevrolet was not illegal when it was presented for inspection Feb. 17 at Daytona. NASCAR used a visual inspection to determine the sheet metal between the roof and the side windows had been illegally modified to give Johnson an aerodynamic advantage.

The car was never sent through NASCAR’s templates, and the team maintained it had not been altered since it was approved in January at NASCAR’s R&D Center. Hendrick also said he had paperwork showing the car was exactly the same as it was following Johnson’s win last April at Talladega.

Both Knaus and Hendrick seemed relieved following the ruling by Middlebrook, who got the appeal after a three-member panel last week upheld all of NASCAR’s penalties.

“I was pretty shocked in Daytona when this happened. We go through great, great lengths, and it’s been years since we’ve been in trouble. Years,” Knaus said. “It’s unfortunate that the perception is out there that we continue to bend the rules, because we truly don’t. We go above and beyond to be compliant with what they want.

“And I was shocked. I was really, really shocked. And I was pretty torn up, because I felt like we did everything in our power to build the best race car we could for the Daytona 500 and take it down there without any problems.”

Hendrick insisted the team was “clearly within the rulebook.”

“There was no ill intent on our part,” Hendrick said. “We felt by the rulebook we were approved. By the rulebook the car was legal.”

Middlebrook is NASCAR’s final arbitrator. He retired in 2008 after 49 years with General Motors and is paid $1 a year by NASCAR for the position he took over at the start of the 2010 season.

Hendrick, a longtime Chevrolet dealer and partner in NASCAR and one of six people who spoke at Middlebrook’s retirement dinner, thought the process was fair.

“I think he’s very smart, and he’s very detailed,” Hendrick said. “We were not talking to someone who doesn’t understand how a car is built, and he’s read the rulebook.”

Knaus has been in trouble before with NASCAR and has served three previous suspensions.

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