CHARLOTTE, N.C. – NASCAR on Tuesday suspended the crew chiefs for Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in a swift crackdown on cheating committed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (search).
Todd Berrier was suspended for four weeks and fined $25,000 for rigging Harvick's fuel tank to appear full when it actually wasn't during qualifying.
Chad Knaus was suspended for two weeks and fined $35,000 when Johnson's race-winning car failed to meet the minimum height requirement in Sunday's post-race inspection.
Alan Gustafson was suspended two weeks and fined $25,000 because Busch's runner-up car was too high in the post-race inspection.
"Guys have just got to stop playing games with the rules," NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter told The Associated Press. "We've got to do whatever we have to do to protect the integrity of this sport."
In addition to the suspensions, drivers Johnson and Busch were also docked 25 points. Rick Hendrick, their car owner, was docked 50 points — 25 for each infraction.
The penalty cost Johnson the series points lead, which he earned following his victory Sunday in Las Vegas. NASCAR (search) allowed his victory to stand, but instead of a 15-point advantage over Kurt Busch, Johnson is now in second place in the standings, 10 points back.
Harvick and car owner Richard Childress did not lose points because the infraction was found after qualifying.
But Berrier's suspension was severe because he admitted to intentionally rigging the 22-gallon tank to appear full when it had just five gallons of gas in it. The team was caught because Harvick qualified fourth. If he had been outside of the top five, his car might not have been checked over following his run.
And if NASCAR officials weren't already angry, they likely hit the roof when Berrier showed little remorse after getting caught.
"If I had to do it again, I'd still play it to try to get away with it, because I know how I got caught," Berrier told NASCAR.com.
None of the crew chiefs were immediately available for comment. But earlier Tuesday, Johnson insisted his team's error was unintentional and blamed the car's shift in height on a bolt that had become loose over the 400-mile race.
"I have 100 percent trust and confidence in Chad that he is going to do everything within the rules," Johnson said.
Hunter said intent was not a factor in NASCAR levying the suspensions.
"NASCAR doesn't feel it is fair to the teams who do meet all of the post-race requirements to continue to have people who are pushing it to the limit and then through miscalculations or whatever on their part, fail inspection," Hunter said. "These rules are black and white and we bend over backward if a car has been in a wreck, been hit, to give them the benefit of the doubt.
"This is just unacceptable. So maybe the crew chiefs being at home will help remedy this issue."
None of the suspended crew chiefs will be permitted to communicate with their race teams via cell phone or radio during the time they are suspended, Hunter said.