NASCAR – 2012 – New Season, New Starts, New Controversies Already

Jimmie Johnson is interviewed after his Crew Chief Chad Knaus was caught having illegal parts on the #48 Hendrick Motorsports entry.

It seems the boys in the garage could not even get a checkered flag drop before they decided to push the envelope and find ways to get themselves in trouble.  Pushing the limits of the tolerances is not something new to NASCAR, in fact it is what all the good crew chiefs should be doing, but there’s a fine line between pushing the limits and stepping over them with blind abandon. Even the great Dale Earnhardt has been quoted as saying “If you’re not cheating, you’re not racing.” NASCAR has never seemed to enjoy that attitude.

“The 48 car had a body modification on it that was outside of what our tolerances are, what the original surface definitions for the body were,” Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said.

“There were some obvious modifications that the template inspectors picked up on and did some additional inspections with some gauges and stuff and found that they were just too far out of tolerance to fix.”

“We’re pretty serious about the body configurations of the cars for all of the right reasons. This was a modification that had been made to the car that put it outside that box.”

Chad Knaus, already known as a repeat offender, was caught this week for having illegally modified C pillars, the posts that connect the roof to the rear deck lid, in between the side and rear windows, which NASCAR found and had removed from the vehicle along with the rear window.  What is the significance of these modifications?  The amount of wind resistance, or drag, could be significantly reduced allowing for greater speeds with the same amount of power.  Technically this is what a crew chief is supposed to do, outside of the track.  Find a way of making gains to improve your teams chances, but when you know it is going to go through inspection why would you push the tolerances so far?

Knaus is no stranger when it comes to visits to the NASCAR hauler.  In 2006 it was for an illegally modified rear window resulting in a 4 race suspension.  2007, both Knaus and LeTarte were caught with modified front fenders on the 48 and the 24 cars resulting in a 6 race suspension as well as a $100 000 fine.  Most recently was 2009′s tolerance pushes with the 48 and the 5 cars that were so close to the limits that Knaus was warned, but not penalized, for.

So what do the other crew chiefs think about all this?  One would think that there would be some anger, or finger pointing.  Surprisingly however, there seems to be more support than bad feelings in the garages.

“He pushes the limit — that’s what you’re supposed to do,” said Pat Tryson, crew chief of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford.

“It doesn’t surprise me. That’s why they’ve been so successful. They’re willing to be aggressive and try to do things that other people aren’t doing. With success, sometimes every now and then you’ll get bit. But I’m sure they’ll continue to do it, ’cause that’s why they won five championships.

“It doesn’t bother you that you didn’t go that far. I guess it bothers you that you don’t have the car owner that will let you take the chance to get in trouble and then you have to risk losing a sponsor or getting fired.

“Fortunately, he works for a guy who is loyal to him and the sponsor doesn’t get upset when they get caught doing it, so it’s OK. Not everybody is in that situation. Everybody isn’t in the same box. I’m glad he does it. That’s what a crew chief gets paid to do.”

So will Knaus be penalized for this infraction?  Most likely he will, but no penalties will be handed out until after returning to Charlotte, and therefore not until after the Daytona 500 has been run.

NASCAR declined to discuss what penalties could develop until after Speedweeks. Since the car never made it to inspection, the team was allowed to make modifications, and as of 9 p.m. ET on Friday — following two attempts — the car still was not deemed legal. The No. 48 crew will be allowed to work on it and try to pass inspection again on Saturday.

“After it gets through inspection, we’ll go on for the next 10 days or so and go through Speedweeks,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s VP of competition. “Like always, we’ll reconvene at the R&D center post-race and do all our cleanups for whatever happens for the next week or so.”

Checkers or Wreckers

Practice yesterday resulted in the first wreck of the season involving some of the most polarizing names in the sport.  Defending Champion Tony Stewart triggered the wreck after getting into the left rear of Kurt Busch’s car, spinning the #51 car around and gathering up the 22 of A.J. Allmendinger, the #2 of Brad Keselowski, the #24 of Jeff Gordon, the #18 of Kyle Busch and the #56 of Martin Truex Jr.

Happening only 40 min into the first practice session, it leaves many wondering if this will be the type of carnage we should expect to see at the Daytona 500.

“I was pushing (Busch), so I’m the one responsible for it,” defending champion Stewart said.

The accident was especially damaging for Kurt Busch, who had the best 10-lap average speed (196.340 mph) of all drivers — suggesting he had a quality car for Saturday night’s exhibition race.

“The guys in front of me just got together, that’s just the way it is,” Keselowski said. “It’s better that it happened now then next Sunday.”

“Yeah, it’s practice, but everybody wants to run hard and see what they can do because we’re going to have to,” Truex said. “Everyone was just trying to be as ready as they can for tomorrow night. If you don’t know what your cars will do now, you can’t get prepared for tomorrow night.”

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