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NASCAR Hits Bristol Amid Storm Of Questions

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 16 2012

Pursuing the full NASCAR appeals process could be a very smart move by Rick Hendrick and the No. 48 team. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

BRISTOL, Tenn. – There seems to be plenty of NASCAR news lately, but one still has to wonder just what it all means.

Take Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal of the penalties imposed on the No. 48 team, including the 25 points deducted from Jimmie Johnson’s drivers total and the six-week suspensions of crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec.

Historically, the appeal process tends to favor NASCAR – overwhelmingly. Still Hendrick has proceeded on, and now will take its case to the chief appellate officer John Middlebrook. It could be argued that there’s no point in giving up until all options have been exhausted, and maybe Middlebrook will see things differently than the original three-member panel, which unanimously voted against Hendrick. It’s possible that Middlebrook, a former General Motors official, could reduce the penalties. He’s done so before since taking his current position.

Even if the final appeal is unsuccessful, there still could be a benefit to dragging out the appeal as far as possible.

By doing just that, Knaus, Malec and Johnson have now worked together on a restrictor-plate-track (Daytona), a flat-track (Phoenix), an intermediate track (Las Vegas) and will be together this weekend on a short track (Bristol).

If two key members are going to have to sit out six weeks, what better way to prepare the team for their absence than to build a set of notes about every kind of track the fill-ins are likely to face?

And supposing Hendrick loses the final appeal. Someone could emerge as crew chief material, as was the case in 2006 when Darian Grubb stepped in for the suspended Knaus and led Johnson to a win in the Daytona 500 and another at Las Vegas?

Dodge’s unveiling of its 2013 Sprint Cup car, the Charger, last week at Las Vegas seemed awkward since there were no drivers or teams involved. The big question mark seems to be who will build the engines. But Dodge was in a similar position back in 2001 when it returned to Cup.

Ray Evernham started his own engine shop, with some initial support from Maurice Petty and his sons, and Ernie Elliott switched over from building Fords to Dodges and provided the power for Chip Ganassi’s Dodges.

This time around, Elliott’s still available, and it could be that a team now building engines for another manufacturer could create a separate company and add Dodge powerplants to its current output.

The sudden departure of NASCAR executive Paul Brooks, long regarded as one of the company’s shining stars, seems puzzling.

Brooks, a 19-year NASCAR veteran, will work through May 4 then continue on indefinitely in an advisory role, according to a statement from NASCAR. Although NASCAR and Brooks have indicated that the move was planned for some time, there’s no word on who will replace him.

The introduction of electronic fuel injection in the Cup series sort of flew under the radar in its debut at Daytona, but that’s not the case any more.

At Las Vegas, the Penske Dodges dropped out of contention with fuel-related issues, and after getting beat by Tony Stewart on several late-race restarts at Las Vegas Jimmie Johnson said in a post-race interview that he wanted to look at the data from Stewart’s EFI.

Both teams use engines and chassis from Hendrick Motorsports and typically share such data.

Stewart, who lost laps the week before at Phoenix with EFI-related problems, said Johnson’s team will get the data it’s seeking.

It sure makes one want to pay attention to restarts – and sputtering cars – on Sunday at Bristol.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 16 2012
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