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DATE News (chronologically)
03/23/12
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NASCAR competitors perplexed by Hendrick ruling  Analyzing the fallout from the shocking decision by NASCAR’s Chief Appellate Officer to rescind severe penalties against Hendrick Motorsports this week might be harder than getting a car through NASCAR inspection.

Drivers and teams are perplexed by CAO John Middlebrook’s decision Tuesday to rescind the six-week suspensions for Hendrick crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec and the 25-point penalty for driver Jimmie Johnson, while upholding Knaus’ $100,000 fine.

Just how bizarre was Middlebrook’s decision?

Johnson, who should have felt vindicated by the ruling, barely cracked a smile in assessing the outcome of Tuesday’s appeal hearing. Johnson was not happy that Knaus’ $100,000 fine stood.

And NASCAR President Mike Helton demonstrated complete confidence in NASCAR’s inspection process, despite most of the penalties being overturned, by saying that NASCAR would again confiscate the C-posts on Johnson’s car if they did not look right. He also said that the fine being upheld proved there was a violation.

NASCAR rarely has penalties overturned by its self-appointed arbitrators, and the decision Tuesday was a blow to the sanctioning body.

“I’ll keep my personal reaction to myself,” Helton said. “But I got through that in 30 seconds to go on to the fact that we did what we felt was correct. Our inspectors did their job. We collectively made a decision on how to react to it.”

Middlebrook did not provide an explanation for his ruling.

“If they were right, they shouldn’t have got fined at all,” Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin said. “It’s either all right or all wrong. I don’t know how you can be partially right and partially wrong on some things. … It should be a black-and-white issue.”

The impact of the decision can be seen in two different ways. One is that teams have an appeals process they can have confidence in (although Middlebrook’s former GM ties have come into question). Or it can be viewed as NASCAR having lost control of its inspection process and any stiff penalties may get overturned on appeal.

“I don’t feel any different about NASCAR than I did before,” said Hendrick driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also owns a team in the Nationwide Series. “They themselves provide the appeal process, and I think it is there for a reason and does a good job. … You know when you are right or wrong and you fight your battles on that intuition.”  Scenedaily.com

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