A NASCAR appeals panel has unanimously upheld the ruling that the #48 car of Jimmie Johnson contained illegal bodywork modifications when presented for scrutineering at Daytona in February, and confirmed the penalties applied by NASCAR.
The National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel spent several hours hearing witnesses and reviewing evidence before upholding the findings and the penalties that had been imposed on the team, Jimmie Johnson, his crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec.
Johnson lost 25 Sprint Cup championship points and the team lost the same number of car owner points. Knaus and Malec have to serve a six race suspension until April 18, and are under NASCAR probation through to May 9. Knaus has additionally been given a $100,000 fine.
"Upon hearing the testimony, carefully reviewing the facts and historically comparative penalties, the unanimous decision of the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel was to uphold the original penalties assessed by NASCAR," read the official announcement of Tuesday's appeal.
Rick Hendrick, the owner of Hendrick Motorsports, was very unhappy with the outcome, saying: "I don't agree with it. Period." The team confirmed that it was going to exercise its right of final appeal to the National Stock Car Racing chief appellate officer.
“The panel was generous with its time today, and we appreciated the opportunity to talk through our concerns,” said Hendrick in a statement. "We feel strongly about this issue and will continue to pursue it at the next level."
NASCAR made no comment beyond the official statement, and Hendrick did not want to get drawn on the case that his team had mounted at today's hearing. "It's best that I just wait until we go through all the processes," he said. "There is nothing for me to talk about that you don't already know."
No timeframe was given for holding the final appeal, but it's likely to be within the next ten days and certainly not before this weekend's race at Bristol Motor Speedway. In the meantime, the team confirmed that Knaus and Malec would not begin their suspensions until the final appeal was heard and that personnel adjustments were not planned in the meantime and that no plans had been decided for who would take over the roles of crew chief and car chief it it came down to that.
While the points deduction is clearly not a good way to start the season, it's probably the lesser headache for the team. Points can be clawed back, and the #48 has since followed up a disastrous Daytona with two strong races that have already begin the process or repairing the damage. Much more serious would be losing Knaus from the pit box for another six races.