Panel upholds penalties against Chad Knaus

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - The crew chief for five-time champion Jimmie Johnson lost his appeal Tuesday challenging penalties for failing the opening day inspection at the Daytona 500.

The three-member committee heard testimony from Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR, then ruled unanimously in favor of the sanctions against Chad Knaus.

NASCAR said Knaus presented a car that had illegally modified sheet metal between the roof and the side windows. Knaus maintains NASCAR made that determination with a visual inspection, the No. 48 Chevrolet never even made it to the templates at Daytona, and the car had been used at all four restrictor-plate races in 2011.

Team owner Rick Hendrick said the team will appeal to the National Stock Car Racing chief appellate officer, and Knaus will work this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway during the appeal process.

“I don’t accept it,” Hendrick said outside NASCAR’s R&D Center. “Period.”

Knaus was suspended six races and fined $100,000; Johnson was docked 25 points; and car chief Ron Malec also was suspended six races.

Knaus‘ appeal was heard by former USAC chairman John Capels, former Indy Racing League and Goodyear executive Leo Mehl and Dale Pinilis, operator of Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem.

“I’d say these guys were very capable people,” Hendrick said. “It’s just hard to have someone try to digest everything that you have to digest in this situation.”

Still, Hendrick “applauded” NASCAR for allowing an appeals process.

“From the days I started in this sport, from what I had to deal with until today, NASCAR has made tremendous strides,” Hendrick said. “None of us want to have to go through this, but sometimes you just disagree, and this is one of those cases.”

The next step for Knaus is a hearing before John Middlebrook, who was appointed in early 2010 as the final judge in NASCAR’s appeals process.

“Of course, we are disappointed that the outcome was the way it was, but we’re going to go ahead to the next level and present our case one last time,” Hendrick said. “We’re just onward and upward. We’ll go to Bristol and try to get (win) No. 200, and we’ll deal with this when the time comes.”

Middlebrook, who earns $1 a year in this job, retired in 2008 after 49 years with General Motors.

His first case came in late 2010 when Richard Childress Racing appealed a championship-crippling 150-point penalty against Clint Bowyer. Middlebrook did not reinstate Bowyer’s points but reduced crew chief Shane Wilson’s suspension from six races to four, and cut his fine from $150,000 to $100,000.

Hendrick, a longtime Chevrolet dealer and partner in NASCAR, vouched for Middlebrook before the Childress appeal. Hendrick, who has known Middlebrook for more than 20 years, was one of six people who honored the executive in his 2008 retirement ceremony.

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