According to a NASCAR news media release issued today, Melling Racing crew chief Chad Knaus has been fined $5000 and suspended for two races for rules infractions under sections 12-4A and 12-4Q of the official rule book.

The penalty - awarded for 'actions detrimental to stock car racing' and '[using] parts and/or equipment used in the event [that] do not conform to NASCAR rules' are thought to refer to the shoulder harness fitted to the team's car at last week's Atlanta race, which had had excess material - and, crucially, the dated manufacturers tag - trimmed away in the name of safety.

Melling Racing owner, Mark Melling, issued the following statement in response to the NASCAR announcement:

"I stand soundly by the safety record of Melling Racing over the many years that we have been participating in this sport," he said, "We are one of the first teams to use a neck restraining device - developed in conjunction with associate sponsor Autoliv, the number one automotive safety company in the world. That device was in place prior to this year's Daytona 500.

"From owner to driver to crew chief to mechanic - safety truly is our utmost concern. We are appealing this penalty immediately. For NASCAR to call us out on a technicality, two weeks after the discovery of the alleged infraction, is just wrong. We have been a leader in the safety area long before it became the recent buzzword in NASCAR. I'm deeply troubled that NASCAR chose to make an example out of us."

Accused Melling crew chief Chad Knaus also issued a statement on the matter, which he is taking personally.

"NASCAR's concern is that safety belts are up to current standards," he said, "The belts in question are brand new belts, and we can prove that.

"As a matter of safety, we trim off excess shoulder belt material. If we did not discard the extra 16 to 24 inches of material, the unused part of the belt would hang free in the cockpit. We don't believe rolling up the excess material provides as safe an alternative as trimming off the excess. When we trimmed off the excess belt material, we also cut off the tag. However, the
other belts from this set still had their dated tags, which indicated that this set was new.

"If NASCAR fined and suspended every crew chief because only one belt was not dated, then every crew chief would be fined and suspended because not every belt is dated. Only three of the five belts that make up a safety restraint system have dated tags, and Simpson even makes a set of belts, harnesses and hardware that come in one box and has only one date tag. So how does NASCAR know the other belts or harnesses are up to spec? They look at the other belts or harnesses that are dated, and they judge the system as a whole. They didn't do that in Atlanta.

"It's unfortunate, because I personally make sure that our team goes above and beyond the industry standard to ensure the safety of our cars. Let me add that I'm glad that NASCAR leaves the choice of safety equipment to the teams. I want that responsibility, and I think NASCAR generally does a very good job policing the safety equipment in these cars. In this case, however, I feel like we are being made an example of."

During his absence, the #92 Kodiak Racing Team will operate under a 'crew chief-by-committee' structure for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway and the Harrah's 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Raceday calls will be made by team owner, Mark Melling, car chief Dean Johnson and mechanic Cory Stott.