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So, What Exactly Just Happened Here?

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 20 2012

Charges against Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson have been dropped. Why? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tom Copeland)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Suddenly, with the release of a really, really vague statement by stock-car racing’s chief appellate officer, the No. 48 team of Hendrick Motorsports moved from starring role to bit player in the young 2012 season’s biggest controversy.

Taking the team’s place at ground zero of the controversy are the egg-faced trinity of NASCAR, a three-judge appeals panel and John Middlebrook, the aforementioned chief appellate officer.

One member of that group has got some ’splainin’ to do. Because right now, all of that group has a major credibility problem.

The HMS team of Jimmie Johnson moved to the forefront of the controversy during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway in February. Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet failed a pre-practice inspection as NASCAR officials found what they insisted were illegal C-posts (the rear-most posts between the roof of the car and the body of the car).

So egregious was the infraction that the HMS was nuked: Loss of 25 driver points for Johnson; loss of 25 owner points for Jeff Gordon; six-race suspensions for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec; $100,000 fine for Knaus.

NASCAR grabbed and hustled the parts in question back to its multi-million-dollar, high-tech research and development center in North Carolina and subjected them to further, intense scrutiny. Oh yeah, the officials said, those C-posts were nasty-bad.

The folks at Hendrick did not agree and appealed to the three-judge panel. Oh yeah, the panel insisted, e-gre-geous.

The penalties, among the most severe ever meted out by NASCAR, were backed by the panel. Horrible dang C-posts was the message. NASCAR was absolutely correct in putting a public pounding on HMS.

Still not satisfied that they got a fair shake, the people at Hendrick logged their one, last appeal. That with Middlebrook a week ago.

On Tuesday, Middlebrook made his decision: Nothing wrong with the C-posts. Say what?

Yep, Johnson and Hendrick were given all of their points back, Knaus and Malec were cleared to remain on the job. Bizarrely, the fine against Knaus stood.

And fans and the media are left to ponder: What the heck just happened?

Did NASCAR screw up in assessing the penalties in the first place? Was the C-post cool all the time? Was it pretty close to being cool all the time and if that was the case, why whack the HMS team with a crippling gut shot? Were NASCAR officials making an example out of the Hendrick 48 team and a crafty crew chief who has given the series fits in the past?

And what is up with the three-judge panel? That panel, put together by something called the National Stock Car Racing Commission, stressed what a thorough job it had done in its review of the facts. But that group has long been viewed as a rubber stamp for NASCAR. It has almost never over-ruled a NASCAR penalty and it remains a tad on the secret-society side. That reputation of being a lap dog to the folks in Daytona Beach will be burnished to a high gloss by events surrounding 48-gate.

Or was it Middlebrook who should be doing the explaining. He is a former executive at General Motors, the company which makes Chevrolets, which happens to be the type of car HMS puts on the track. Middlebrook and Mr. Hendrick go way back. Should Middlebrook have recused himself from hearing a very important appeal from his old friends? Would Jack Roush or Roger Penske or Joe Gibbs gotten similar last-minute reprieves? In three previous rulings, he had rescinded but not overturned entire penalties.

The thing is, we will never know what happened behind the curtain.

All are able and willing and already well on their way to sweeping it all aside by saying things like: what’s over is over and time to put this behind us and move on. Middlebrook, reportedly, will say nothing at all.

But this situation demands an explanation. A detailed one. The business owes it to its customers. Customers who spend large sums of money on the product. They deserve to know that what they are watching is not rancid.

They deserve to know why an organization that was sentence to be hung by the neck until competitively crippled is now walking the streets once again.

Right now, say, would be a great time for an explanation.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 20 2012
9 Comments

9 Comments »

  • Tony Geinzer says:

    Jim, I can’t stand Chad “Hate Me” Knaus like he is a likable figure at all! I think the ample theme is Nas’ “Hate Me Now”, for the Gang of 6 Ring Hunters as I feel JJ got his Ross and Rachel friends and Knaus is Adrian Newey. I feel NASCAR needs an outright Non Hendrick Employee to win and Smoke build his own parts,for a change. I hate throwing you throwbacks like it is bad habit, but Hendrick is dysfunctional on purpose and Gibbs is dysfunctional and they know it at Torrance.

  • mr clause says:

    Splainin! Car was never presented for inspection. Supposed violation was judged by eyeball, never measured in place on the car. Other cars with the same issues on the same day were allowed to fix their C posts without penalty or media reporting. Photos of car, build sheets, signed inspection reports by a NASCAR inspector indicating car met the rulebook. An actual face to face question and answer session between NASCAR and HMS which is not allowed at first appeal where more information possibly came to light. An arbitrator who listened to both presentations.

    Why the fine and probation? Quite possibly to leave NASCAR with some credibility in this fiasco? How badly does NASCAR look now? How much worse would the appear had the entire penalty been over turned? This was a NASCAR foul up from the start and they not HMS or Middlebrook should suffer from it. There was no collusion between HMS and Middlebrook period! The question might be better asked of the first appeals panel, the rubber stamp has always been in waiting there. Maybe any splainin should come from NASCAR on where they screwed up. Maybe an admission of mistakes? Not in this lifetime folks!

  • Jim Baker says:

    I smell bad fish here. My question is: Now that it is okay for the Hendrick garage to alter the c-posts to the shape they want, does this mean all the other garages will have to do the same cheating to keep up? Want to place bets on what happens when Toyota or Ford get caught doing the same thing to try to keep up with the now legal, illegal c-post. NASCAR is ridiculous.

  • Rita Jean says:

    I agree with the basic assessment that there needs to be more explanation. I realize that we are already “moving on,” but I also feel as a fan that this process should be clearly defined.

  • grumpiestoldman says:

    And Hendrick and his good buddy Middlebrook probably went out for a nice dinner afterward to laugh at how stupid they think NASCAR fans are for believing this was a legitimate process.

  • midasmicah says:

    The bottom line. Hendricks wins the match and beats his chest (with Middlebrook holding the belt)while more core fans head for the exit. It’s obvious nascar could care less about it’s dwindling fan base and continue to have their collective heads up their arses. Good grief.

  • Lydia says:

    Usually when someone goes to trial they are deemed guilty or innocent…but this is NASCAR and in their bizzaro world obviously it’s possible to be innocent..but not really. OR guilty… but just alittle bit! AND..as in most dealings with NASCAR we’ll never really know the truth…which sheds a dark cast over the credibility of everyone involved. I don’t know if the 48 was legal or not..and obviously NASCAR doesn’t either..they got their cash so let’s move on.

  • Greg says:

    As I asked last week dose not someone have photos to compare this car at other tracks to how it looked at Daytona?

  • Joe says:

    You’re darn right Mister Pedley. Someone has some splainin’ to do.