March 21, 2012  |   By Tom Jensen - SPEED

Hendrick Wins Last Appeal

Courtesy of Speed.com

In a stunning reversal of fortune, NASCAR chief appellate officer John Middlebrook today overturned the critical portions of NASCAR penalties levied against the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team for modified C-posts discovered during pre-qualifying inspection for the Daytona 500.

The means Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, and car chief, Ron Malec, will not face six-week suspensions and Johnson will not lose 25 points. In Knaus’ case, the $100,000 fine still stands, the only part of the penalty left intact.

Asked why the ruling was overturned, NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said, “I’m sure the chief appellate officer has his reasons for doing that. He heard both sides. It’s his prerogative to make those types of decisions and that’s part of the process. ... The NASCAR rulebook provides for this process in our sport and we believe in our rulebook.”

The ruling was a huge victory for Hendrick Motorsports in its second and final appeal. Last week, the National Stock Car Racing Commission denied the first appeal and today was Hendrick’s last chance, and the final appeal paid big dividends.

Instantly, Johnson moves from 17th to 11th in points, and his team will not be without its two top leaders, which would have been a significant loss over the next six races.

NASCAR officials said the last time a points penalty was overturned on appeal in the Sprint Cup Series came in October 2005, when Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Inc. were fined driver and owner points after Waltrip made an “inappropriate gesture by the driver during a televised broadcast.”

Today’s ruling dwarfs those from 2005, however.

Team owner Rick Hendrick and Knaus both said that the team provided Middlebrook with extensive documentation that the No. 48, as configured at Daytona, already had passed inspection and raced at all four restrictor-plate races in 2011 and had passed inspection again at the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, N.C. in January 2012.

Middlebrook was not available for comment.

“I’m glad this is over,” said Hendrick. “It’s been a long 30 days, I guess. I appreciate the fact that we had the opportunity to present all the facts. I’m happy with the outcome to see the points reinstated and Chad reinstated and our other guys, too. I would have liked to have the fine gone, too, because I think there was no reason for any kind of penalty.”

Hendrick was adamant about the legality of the car.

“I felt from the very beginning that we were clearly by the rulebook, within the guidelines, and the car had been seen multiple times, and raced everywhere we raced in 2011,” said Hendrick. “... I believe so hard and so much in the facts.”

The main fact, in this case, apparently was that the car, as it was presented prior to Daytona 500 qualifying, was signed off on multiple times.

“I don’t know how, looking at the rulebook, if an official says the car is right, the car is right,” said Hendrick. “The car goes through the (NASCAR) Tech Center and it passes, it passes. If we have a signed affidavit that says it hasn’t been touched, it hasn’t been touched. So, what’s the issue?”

The original penalty ruling was that the No. 48 car was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4J (any determination by NASCAR officials that race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the rule book or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the event); and 20-2.1E (if in the judgment of NASCAR officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance will not be permitted – unapproved car body modifications).

Knaus and Malec originally were each suspended for six Sprint Cup races and Knaus was fined $100,000.

Johnson and car owner Jeff Gordon were penalized with the loss of 25 driver and 25 owner points, respectively.

But those penalties are now history and the team will face no sanctions other than the Knaus fine.

“Nobody enjoys this,” said Hendrick. “I think today, by taking the time and going piece by piece, date by date, you can see that there’s no ill-intent on our part. We were clearly, I felt like — by the rulebook, we were clearly approved.”