Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What we didn't learn from Jimmie Johnson's appeal

   Two appeals and a month later, what have we learned from NASCAR's attempt to lower the boom on crew chief Chad Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports' No. 48 team?

   Honestly, not much. In fact, the situation is more confusing than ever.

   After NASCAR's chief appellate officer, John Middlebrook, rescinded the six-week suspensions of Knaus and car chief Ron Malec and the 25-point driver and owner penalties this week, Hendrick officials – perhaps rightfully so – believed their claims of innocence were validated by the decision.

   But were they?

   Yes, Johnson got his points back and Knaus and Malec will remain working at the track, yet Middlebrook left intact the $100,000 fine against Knaus and the probation period assigned to both Knaus and Malec until May 9.

   If Hendrick was cleared of all charges, why does the fine and probation remain?

   Given the remaining penalties left intact, it appears Middlebrook thought Knaus and Malec still did something wrong. But what?

   In his statement announcing his decision, Middlebrook declined to give the reasoning behind his decision. Absent any comment from Middlebrook, we are left to guess what parts of this entire process Middlebrook thought were handled wrong and which were correct.

   In other words, we are no better off now than we were when this issue first arose at Daytona.

   NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports and all the other Sprint Cup Series teams are left with no direction as to how to proceed from here.

   In the American court system, appellate courts issue written opinions with their decision with the purpose to offer guidance to the lower courts as to how to deal with similar issues when they come up again.

   No such help here.  

   As long as they are willing to pay a big fine, it appears teams can continue to do whatever it was the No. 48 team was doing on their car at Daytona.

   A month later, no one still has any idea whether it was right or wrong.

Ruling on Jimmie Johnson appeal


 On March 20, 2012, the Chief Appellate Officer heard and considered the appeal of the penalties resulting from the #48 Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team. This stemmed from an opening day inspection for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2012.

 The penalties concern Section 12-1 of the NASCAR Rule Book “Actions detrimental to stock car racing;” Section 12-4(J): “Any determination by NASCAR Officials that the Race Equipment used in the Event does not conform to NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the NASCAR Rule Book, or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the Event;” and Section 20-2.1(E): “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.”

The results of the appeal hearing were as follows:

Rescinding the loss of 25 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Car Owner points (for Jeff Gordon).

 Rescinding the loss of 25 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Driver points (for Jimmie Johnson).

 Rescinding the six (6) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Events suspension for the Crew Chief (Chad Knaus) and Car Chief (Ron Malec), however both will remain on NASCAR probation until May 9, 2012.

 $100,000 fine remains in place for the Crew Chief (Chad Knaus).

 John Middlebrook – Chief Appellate Officer