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Hendrick Motorsports case could arise again

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Mar. 23, 2012

Could there be yet another round of the case NASCAR vs. Hendrick Motorsports' No. 48 team?

It certainly sounds possible.

If Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet shows up at the May 6 Sprint Cup race at Talladega, Ala., with the same questionable C-posts on the car it used at Daytona, expect NASCAR inspectors to confiscate them again.

And the month-long penalty and appeal process that concluded this week could begin all over.

Earlier this week, NASCAR's chief appellate officer, John Middlebrook, rescinded the points penalties and crew suspensions issued as part of a penalty to the No. 48 team for unapproved modifications to the C-posts, pillars that come down from the roof to the quarter-panels.

Middlebrook, however, left intact the $100,000 fine to crew chief Chad Knaus and the probation period for Knaus and car chief Ron Malec.

NASCAR President Mike Helton on Friday at Auto Club Speedway said the chief appellate officer's decision to keep the fine and probation meant there was a rule violation.

“We believe in our inspectors. We think that the decision that was made this week supports the inspection process because the elements of the penalty that were upheld indicate that the inspection process, or the inspectors, did their job correctly,” he said.

Given that, Helton was asked if his inspectors saw the same part again at Talladega, if they would confiscate the parts again, Helton replied, “I hope so.”

NASCAR officials also take issue with reports from the Hendrick Motorsports camp that as part of their presentation to Middlebrook, they had an affidavit from a NASCAR official who told No. 48 crew members it was OK to work in the C-Post area.

“NASCAR officials do not sign affidavits, nor did one do so in this case,” NASCAR spokesman Brett Jewkes said Friday.

After Middlebrook's decision was announced Tuesday, team owner Rick Hendrick talked about his team's presentation, including sworn affidavits from crew members.

“We also had a statement from a NASCAR official that said you could work in that area, that that area was OK,” Hendrick said.

Asked if that statement was one of the affidavits it used in the case, Hendrick replied, “Yes.”

There remains a lot of discrepancy in the interpretation of Middlebrook's split decision – in large part because he offered no reasoning for his decision and has declined to comment on it. As expected, Johnson believes the elimination of the points penalties and crew suspensions meant the No. 48 did nothing wrong.

“The reason we won that appeal is because we proved those C-Posts were legal. If we hadn't done that, we wouldn't have won,” Johnson said. “I'm not totally happy with the decision. I'm pleased that the big issues had come down, but I share confusion as well. I know our message all along through Hendrick Motorsports and myself, we didn't feel that a penalty was warranted in the first place.

“We're just as curious.”

So, where does this issue go from here?

At least for now, it appears both sides have evidence supporting their respective positions.

How that will plays out in the future may well get tested again at Talladega, should HMS bring its Daytona 500 car back for another run.

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