Friday, March 2, 2012

The Ax Falls on the 48 Team: "D" Post Infraction Costs Johnson 75 points and even more for Chief Knauss

5 time champ's 2012 season starts upside down.

As if Juan Pablo Montoya’s crash into a jet dryer truck didn’t cause enough of an explosion, NASCAR ignited a bigger blast this week as the penalty was determined for the #48 team’s tampering with the aerodynamic properties of the five-time champ’s Daytona 500 car was announced today.

Prior to cars hitting the track for Daytona 500 practice, Jimmie Johnson’s car failed inspection because the D pillars which connect the roof to the rear deck lid were illegally modified. The team was allowed to replace them with compliant parts and race for qualifying, the Twin 125’s, and the Daytona 500 were a second lap crash eliminated Johnson from the race yielding a 42nd place finish.

In the “Ouch this Hurts” department, crew chief, Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec are suspended for six races that would put them out of action until April 18th pending appeal. Further, they face probation through May 9th. Knaus owes a $100,000 fine. The worst blow of all is both Johnson loses 25 driver points and owners Jeff Gordon lose 25 owner points, putting them at a horrific -23 points down in the standings. With the new points system enacted for the 2011 season, Johnson is 70 points behind Matt Kenseth.

Chad Knaus is no stranger to the NASCAR dog house. Alterations to the rear quarter panel resulted in Knaus and Jeff Gordon’s chief, Steve Letarte’s suspension at the beginning of the 2006 season. Nevertheless, not only did Johnson win the Daytona 500 with crew member, Darien Grubb calling the shots, they’d also win in Las Vegas two races later.

Knaus and the Hendrick organization defended their error indicating they have run this same alteration in previous races and no mention was made then. Knaus surely faced further scrutiny resulting from radio chatter overheard during last fall’s Talladega race where Knaus instructed Johnson to damage the rear end of his car had he won the race, "If we win this race, you have to crack the back of the car. Got it?" No doubt, that put Knaus under especially tight scrutiny particularly at his next restrictor plate race.

To Knaus’s defense, winning involves pushing every possible advantage to its furthest degree of tolerance looking for every advantage to win. When victory can be measured in milliseconds small fractions of an inch enter into design specs. Doing so involves risk, and now the #48 ride is behind the 8-ball starting a most difficult season ahead.

Johnson and crew have essentially two full races to make up by the 26th race in Richmond next December. How successful they will be should be evident by week 10 at which time the clear challengers are clearly defined. That race, coincidentally, will be the series’ next restrictor plate race at Talladega on May 6th. Working toward the race of reckoning, Richmond, September 8th, Johnson, Knaus and crew can surely make up the difference to enter the top 10 in points and every win, and almost certainly there will be some, will up his position in the chase. All we’ve seen thus far, the 2nd lap wreck and the severe points penalty should be distant memory; however, one should never forget, losses in February count as much as races up to the onset of the chase. 2012 will be the 48 team’s toughest challenge yet.


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