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Jimmie Says Team Can Survive Denial Of Final Appeal

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

Jimmie Johnson says the loss of crew chief Chad Knaus would hurt, but not kill, title hopes. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

BRISTOL, Tenn. – For Hendrick Motorsports, it’s time to appear before stock car racing’s Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, team owner Rick Hendrick and crew chief Chad Knaus will make their final appeal regarding the penalties assessed the No. 48 team for infractions in Daytona. And if they’re upheld, Jimmie Johnson said Friday it would be a “huge blow” to his team.

“I feel like we can work through it and still have a chance to win races, but it would be very difficult,” said the five-time NASCAR champion, who qualified 22nd for Sunday’s Food City 500. “We do have depth in our organization. We feel like if this next appeal, things don’t change, we are not overly concerned because of the depth we have. Still, we know how important this sport is along the lines of chemistry.”

National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook, a former GM executive, will hear Hendrick’s appeal at NASCAR’s R&D center in Concord, N.C. Hendrick contends NASCAR inspectors erred in ruling the car’s C-posts were illegal. He said the car passed all pre- and post-race inspections at each of last year’s four restrictor-plate races and NASCAR should have used more templates to measure the car before declaring it illegal.

A three-person appeals panel disagreed with Hendrick last Tuesday and unanimously upheld the penalties, which included a six-week suspension of Knaus and car chief Ron Malec. Knaus also was fined $100,000 and placed on probation with Malec. Johnson and car owner Jeff Gordon each lost 25 points. The penalties are on hold until the appeals process has concluded.

“I’m definitely disappointed in what happened last Tuesday,” Johnson said. “I have hope that this next appeal will be heard and we will have a different outcome. We clearly feel we have a point to make and that is why we continue to go through the process and appeal this thing. We certainly hope that this next and final stop our argument is heard.

“You look at the points that are lost. Twenty-five points is a big number. It puts a premium back on winning and then you don’t have your crew chief and car chief, so winning is going to be that much more difficult. It’s a double-edge sword. It’s not an easy deal to go through. That is why we are fighting these appeals like we are.”

Entering Sunday’s Bristol race, Johnson is 23rd in the driver standings. A 25-point loss could drop him out of the top 25, depending on his Bristol performance.

If Middlebrook upholds the penalties, it will be Knaus’ third suspension. He was suspended prior to the 2006 Daytona 500 and in 2007 before the road race at Sonoma, Calif.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

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