Shock and disbelief that Hendrick won a partial appeal National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook on Tuesday overturned the penalties imposed on the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team stemming from opening-day inspection at Daytona last month. Middlebrook rescinded the 25 owner and driver points, as well as the six-race suspension of crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec, who both remain on probation until May 9.
Following is reaction to the ruling from SPEED on-air personalities:
“Finally, a voice of reason in a sea of insanity. But this was not what I expected. I said from the beginning that the punishment didn’t fit the crime, and the points penalty was way over the top in my opinion. I don’t know the specific case that Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus presented, but their one-on-one time with John Middlebrook obviously went well and paid off. For the record, I have seen John at a track – I saw him at Daytona – and he does have his finger on the pulse of the sport. This was a very fair ruling. I’m happy that the team did a good job presenting their evidence and that John did a good job of interpreting the evidence and ruling the way I would have.
“In NASCAR’s defense, who might be shocked by this ruling, they have an appeals process where, if you are found guilty in a lower court, you can appeal it and it’s not over until it’s over. If you do something wrong, NASCAR will bust you. But the other teams should examine this and realize there is a fair process they can go through.”
--Kyle Petty, SPEED analyst
“I’m not surprised; I’m shocked. The last time points penalties were overturned was 2008 in the Nationwide Series and 2005 for the Cup Series, but those cases weren’t anywhere near the magnitude of the No. 48 case. So, this ruling is very significant for Hendrick Motorsports.
“I asked Rick and Chad why their penalties were overturned and they told me they presented an overwhelming body of evidence showing the car had been run in its current configuration in four restrictor-plate races last year and also was presented that way to the NASCAR R&D Center in January 2012 for pre-Daytona inspection and passed all five times. They also showed it hadn’t been modified. Additionally, they had an affidavit from a NASCAR official saying they were allowed to work in the C-post area. When you add that all together, they had a pretty compelling body of evidence. As for the other teams that appealed to Middlebrook or the panel and weren’t as fortunate, you better believe every other team owner and crew chief in the garage is looking at this ruling very closely.”
--Tom Jensen, SPEED.com Editor-in-Chief
“I’m not shocked – I’m absolutely blown away by the decision. I wouldn’t have been surprised if John Middlebrook, given his past history on these appeals, had reduced the suspensions and money, but I never expected him to touch the points penalty.
“I didn’t even know Middlebrook was the Chief Appellate officer until the Richard Childress Racing incident in 2010. Knowing that Richard and John were close friends from John’s days with Chevrolet, I almost laughed when I heard John was going to hear the RCR appeal. I figured, ‘Why don’t you just put Judy Childress in that chair and let Richard make his case to her?’ But Middlebrook built a lot of credibility with that hearing and demonstrated he was there to do his job and his job only.
“I’m happy for Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus. It became pretty evident over the last two weeks that, for whatever reason, Rick was passionate about getting his appeal heard twice. But you cannot put a price on 25 points nowadays, and we won’t know how valuable they are to Jimmie Johnson until we get to the end of the first 26 races.
“What I don’t understand, though, is why John kept the $100,000 fine in place. If the rule infraction was so small that he felt comfortable in rescinding the points and the suspensions, what justifies there still being a $100,000 fine? If there wasn’t a rule infraction, throw the whole thing out, including the $100,000 fine. That, I do not understand.”
--Larry McReynolds, SPEED and NASCAR on FOX analyst
“Lately NASCAR has made a lot of fuss about listening to the fans. I suspect they will figure out pretty quickly that the howl they’ll hear is a lot of very unhappy fans who think this is the worst case of cronyism they’ve seen in a long time. If it were someone other than Chad Knaus and Rick Hendrick, there might be a lot less uproar. But given Chad’s track record and Rick Hendrick’s relationship with John Middlebrook, I think this will make a lot of fans really unhappy.”
--Dave Despain, host of Wind Tunnel
“I think Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus had a good argument that the templates never were placed on the car at the track and they weren’t allowed to fix any issues, despite the fact the crew was present and able. However, I think this came down to NASCAR maybe not doing everything down to the letter of the law at Daytona and the penalties being assessed before the team had a chance to defend itself or work on any problems. I think that’s why Rick felt so strongly about taking his appeal all the way to the top.
“Hendrick Motorsports had the templates to stand on in their argument. The templates never touched the car. We live in a template world in NASCAR and if I’m a team owner or a crew chief, I want you to slap them on the car and show me what’s wrong with it. Don’t say, ‘It doesn’t look right.’ But the good news is we do have a process for teams to go through and this particular ruling gives everyone a chance to examine the inspection and penalty process. Was anything done incorrectly? Anytime we have a big issue in NASCAR, we learn from it, whether it’s how to protect jet dryer drivers, how to fill enormous potholes or how to protect drivers. This is another one of those learning opportunities.”
--Darrell Waltrip, SPEED and NASCAR on FOX analyst
“I’m very surprised. I expected it to be reduced, maybe the suspension by a few weeks, but I really thought the fine and points would stay as is. Hendrick Motorsports said that they had a few things up their sleeve, and they presented them not only to the board, but then (Chief Appellate Officer) John Middlebrook, and I think (he) is an easier guy to go through, honestly, than the board itself.
“I think it’s going to set the NASCAR garage area ablaze. I think Chad Knaus and that team, Chad in particular, one of the greatest crew chiefs ever, I don’t fault him one bit for trying things like he did. But at the same time, you have to look at it from other team’s perspectives and they are going, ‘Well. If he can get away with that, we’re going to get away with some stuff.’ NASCAR always talks about setting a new precedent. A new precedent might have been set today.
“I think John Middlebrook has a pretty good background. He’s been involved with GM and the racing scene for a long time, and he understands the dynamics of NASCAR. But at the same time, for one person to be the Chief Appellate Officer, and those are the rules and it’s what everyone has to adhere too, but at the same time, you have to wonder if one person making a decision is necessarily the best thing for everybody. I want to go on the record; I don’t disagree with the ruling. I thought it was too harsh to begin with because they played within the points on the template, but at the same time, the entire process is something that’s been ridiculed over the past couple of weeks.”
Bob Dillner, SPEED NASCAR Analyst
Former Hendrick Motorsports crew member and SPEED Insider Matt Clark talked about NASCAR’s reduction of penalties for Chad Knaus & Ron Malec, the respective crew chief and car chief on the No. 48 driven by five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
Matt Clark, SPEED NASCAR Insider & Former Hendrick Motorsports Crew Member
“I think the NASCAR world is shocked. Everyone expected a little bit of a reduction, etc…, but not necessarily a total overturn in the suspensions and points. I think (NASCAR Chief Appellate Officer John) Middlebrook got this one right. I say that because the big argument had been; (the car was) pulled out of line before templates, its raced before, it’s been documented and other teams were allowed to fix any issues. I think Hendrick made a strong case to Middlebrook. I think it bodes well for NASCAR and competitors that everything is not rubber stamped.”
How does this impact the team going forward?
“It definitely impacts (the team’s) mood positively because you have to remember, guys were going to have to go on the road that weren’t traveling, and people were going to have to move positions. It was going to be different for the next four to six weeks. Now everything is routine. They have their points back. It’s a huge lift for a team not to have to worry about doing a different job if you were directly involved with the changing pieces.”