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Johnson penalised for illegal bodywork

29 February 2012

Jimmie Johnson knew it was coming, but confirmation of the penalty for illegal bodywork on the #48 discovered on the first day of 2012 Speedweeks was the worst possible way to end a horrible Daytona 500. And the size of the penalties was bigger than expected, if not exactly a huge surprise.

Even before track activity got underway at Daytona nearly two weeks ago, the #48 failed pre-practice scrutineering when it was found that the 'C' posts that connect the roof to the deck of the car had been illegally modified outside of NASCAR specifications, seemingly in an attempt to gain aerodynamic advantage in the way that the air was channelled to the rear spoiler.

Following the conclusion of the Daytona 500, NASCAR handed down penalties on Wednesday to Johnson, the team, the car chief - and the crew chief, Chad Knaus.

Johnson himself has been docked 25pts, meaning that he is now left on negative points, since an early accident in the Daytona 500 sparked when Elliott Sadler ran into the back of the #48 at the start of lap 2 left Johnson classified in next-to-last place and with just 2pts in his account.

After the penalty is applied Johnson now has -23pts to overcome before he can even start his 2012 Sprint Cup season properly. It means he's currently in 49th place in the Cup standings.

Chad Knaus has been suspended from the next six Sprint Cup events, and additionally fined $100,000. The car chief of the #48, Ron Malec, was also suspended for six races. Both men have been suspended from NASCAR until April 18 and placed on NASCAR probation until May 9.

The team itself also loses 25 car owner points, which means that the #48 could lose its place in the top 35 that assures entry to races from Martinsville onwards. However, Johnson would be able to apply a champions provisional entry to make sure he doesn't have to rely on qualifying performance to make the grid while he recovers lost ground.

However the team is not happy with the penalties, and says that it will appeal the decision through the formal process.

"Our organisation respects NASCAR and the way the sanctioning body governs our sport," said team owner Rick Hendrick in a statement. "In this case, though, the system broke down, and we will voice our concerns through the appeal process."

The specific rule that NASCAR have deemed the #48 broke was section 20-2.1E, "unapproved car body modifications, specifically any part of the car modified to enhance aerodynamic performance."

Knaus and Malec will continue to work on the #48 until the appeal against the penalty is heard. A previous Hendrick appeal over a penalty issued to Knaus for the car being too low at Las Vegas in 2005 was successful, but Knaus has been suspended for multiple races in 2006 and 2007 for violations.

Knaus also triggered controversy last year at Talladega when he was heard telling Johnson to "crack" the rear of the #48 in the event that they won the race apparently out of concern that it would fail post-race inspection. No penalties were applied after that, but NASCAR took an increased interest in scrutinising the #48 from then until the end of the season.

Keselowski in the clear over tweets

Meanwhile, NASCAR stated that Brad Keselowski would definitely not face any penalties for having a mobile phone with him in the car which he subsequently used for tweeting comments and pictures from the race track during the two-hour red flag delay in Monday night's race caused by Juan Montoya's unwise encounter with a jet dryer.

NASCAR rules forbid drivers having any recording or communications equipment that might allow them to bypass the official monitored team communications channels, which might have got Keselowski into trouble.

But with NASCAR promoting the use of social media engagement with fans to all teams and drivers, and with Keselowski's Twitter use during the long stoppage at Daytona a huge hit with fans online, there was clearly no interest from the sanctioning body in spoiling the fun.

"NASCAR will not penalise Brad Keselowski for his use of Twitter during Monday night's Daytona 500," read the official release. "Nothing we've seen from Keselowski violates any current rules pertaining to the use of social media during races. As such, he won't be penalised."

The official statement added: "We encourage our drivers to use social media to express themselves as long as they do so without risking their safety or that of others."

Truck Series crew member suspended

In an unrelated disciplinary matter, a crew member in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has been indefinitely suspended from NASCAR as a result of violations discovered at Daytona.

Keith Wolfe, crew chief on the #0 Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing truck driven by Jake Crum, was said to have failed to notify NASCAR of prior felony and/or substance abuse related law violations. He was also deemed in breach of NASCAR's substance abuse policy.


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