For Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Jimmie Johnson, Tuesday's appeals victory has many aspects, but none more important than this one: He can now focus exclusively on racing again.
Johnson’s car was caught with modified — and to NASCAR’s eyes, illegal — C-posts in pre-Daytona 500 qualifying inspection last month. NASCAR subsequently suspended Knaus and car chief Ron Malec for six races each, docked the No. 48 team 25 owner and driver points and fined Knaus $100,000.
On March 13, a three-person appeals panel upheld that ruling, but on Tuesday, NASCAR chief appellate officer John Middlebrook, a former General Motors executive and close friend of team owner Rick Hendrick, overturned all the penalties, except for the fine. No suspensions for Knaus or Malec and no points loss, either.
After spending 30 days being distracted by preparing a case before the two appeals, Knaus can now focus on making Johnson’s cars fast instead of having the case hang over his head.
“I’m stoked, I’m excited, I can’t wait to get to Fontana,” said Knaus, referring to Auto Club Speedway, which will host this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race. “It’s one of my favorite race tracks, obviously. That’s where we got our first win in 2002 with the 48 team, so we’re really, really pumped up. We’re ready to get out there and have some fun.”
Asked how much time he spent on the appeal, Knaus laughed.
“A lot,” said Knaus. “It’s been 30 days. It’s been a long 30 days. I can’t even begin to tell you how much time it’s been. It’s been very, very encompassing, pretty daunting.”
Knaus, who was suspended by NASCAR for four races in 2006 and six in 2007 but has been trouble-free since, said he’s not worried about public perception.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I’m not worried about my reputation. I’m worried about going out and winning races for Hendrick Motorsports and doing the best I can for Lowe’s and Jimmie Johnson. That’s all I care about. And if people don’t like the way we do it or what’s happened in the past, then it’s sad. I don’t like personal digs, but because this is a business and a sport, you’re always going to have that.”
Asked why he felt the team won the final appeal after losing the first one, Knaus explained the process.
“I think the forum today was a little bit better,” said Knaus. “I think it allowed us to get us in the same room with the NASCAR personnel and discuss openly what happened, and the appeals committee was able to hear both sides of the story at the same time, and that cuts out a lot of the ‘He said, she said,’ stuff. The facts get laid out 100 percent.
“There's two sides to every story: There's my side, NASCAR's side and the truth. That always lies in the middle somewhere. And I think today we did a good job of making sure that the truth was laid out there for everybody.”
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.