- Associated Press - Friday, March 2, 2012

AVONDALE, ARIZ. (AP) - Jimmie Johnson’s car failed inspection before the Daytona 500 and he didn’t last long in the race, collected in a wreck on the second lap.

His crew chief was suspended six races and fined $100,000, and his car chief will have to watch for six races, too. Johnson also was docked 25 points and heads into this weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway last in the Sprint Cup standings.

He’s hoping to have a good race just so he can get out of the red in points. Coming off his worst year in NASCAR, this isn’t how the five-time champion wanted to get his season started.

“It’s certainly not a position we want to be in,” Johnson said Friday. “But there’s a lot of racing between now and September.”

Johnson wasn’t much of a factor last season in his bid to win six straight Sprint Cup championships. He made the Chase after winning just one race and finished sixth in the final standings, 99 points behind champion Tony Stewart.

Johnson vowed to turn it around in 2012, but it didn’t get off to a very good start.

First, his car failed inspection the opening day of Speedweeks on Feb. 17 after NASCAR ruled the No. 48 Chevrolet had illegally modified sheet metal between the roof and the side windows, an area known as the C-posts.

Johnson qualified eighth for the Daytona 500. But after nearly two days of rain delays, he was knocked out of the race on the second lap when Elliott Sadler nudged him from behind and triggered a multi-car wreck.

Johnson didn’t return to the track _ missing the jet blower fire and the laundry detergent cleanup _ and finished 42nd, earning just two points in Monday night’s season-opening race.

Two days later, NASCAR announced its steep penalties for Johnson’s team.

Crew chief Chad Knaus was fined $100,000 and suspended six races, and car chief Ron Malec was told he’d have to sit out six races. Hendrick Motorsports appealed, so both chiefs will be allowed to attend races during the process.

Johnson also was penalized, dropping him to minus 23 points, 70 behind Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth in the season standings.

“It’s going to make things exciting and that’s something we like to do with the 48 team,” Knaus said. “It seems somehow or another we seem to get through adversity pretty well. So, I’m not saying we like a challenge like this but I’m pretty sure we’ll rise to the occasion.”

The wreck at Daytona was hard to take, but unavoidable, one of those tough-luck breaks that come with racing.

The failed inspection and subsequent suspension caught the team off-guard.

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