Friday’s announcement by NASCAR that it had seized illegally modified C-pillars from the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson was not the first time that team ran afoul of NASCAR inspectors at Daytona International Speedway.
In July 2002, when Johnson was a rookie in the Sprint Cup Series, the No. 48 car was caught prior to practice with offset bolts on the rear-trailing arms.
Trailing arms are long, steel beams that run from the center of the underside of the modern Sprint Cup car, back all the way to beneath the rear axle. The trailing arms move up and down with the rear springs and axle as the car goes around the track.
Johnson’s July 2002 Daytona car carried a trick designed to make the car sit lower in the rear and therefore, presumably, have less aerodynamic drag and more speed. The front bolts on the trailing arms were offset, yet designed to look normal from the outside. Essentially, the rear-trailing arms are like levers. If one can move the point where the lever pivots, it will allow the rear end of the car to drop lower at speed.
“It’s pretty ingenious,” said Gary Nelson, who then was the director of what is now known as the Sprint Cup Series. “You have more leverage against it. It doesn’t take much to make a quarter-inch of difference.”
NASCAR’s reaction was swift. On July 10, 2002, the sanctioning body fined Knaus $25,000 and penalized Johnson 25 driver points and car owner Rick Hendrick 25 car owner points.
Knaus took the penalty in stride. “Being creative is my job,” Knaus told then Charlotte Observer reporter David Poole. “If I am going to get fined and penalized for being creative, then that’s just part of it.”
Three-and-a-half years later, Knaus was ejected from Daytona International Speedway, fined $25,000 and suspended for four races for a movable rear window detected after Daytona 500 qualifying. Officially, NASCAR officials said the No. 48 Chevrolet failed to fit the templates used to regulate aerodynamics.
“It's obviously disappointing to miss the biggest race of the year,” Knaus said in the statement issued by the team after he was ejected from Daytona, “but I'm confident in ... the rest of my teammates. There's been a lot of effort put into the Daytona 500, and I know the team will be successful with the support they'll receive from the entire organization.”
The suspension didn’t hurt the team. Johnson won the 2006 Daytona 500 with former team engineer Darian Grubb as his crew chief, and went on to win his first of five consecutive Sprint Cup championships that year, too.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.