Rick Hendrick defends No. 48 car
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The owner of Hendrick Motorsports disputes NASCAR's claim that Jimmie Johnson's Daytona 500 car was illegal and plans to appeal any penalty the governing body issues.
NASCAR on Friday confiscated the C-posts -- pillars that come down from the roof to the quarter panel -- from Johnson's car during the initial inspection process. Officials said the pieces were so obviously altered to create an aerodynamic advantage that they could be seen by the naked eye.
Sprint Cup series director John Darby said it was a major offense and could result in a suspension for crew chief Chad Knaus and others involved.
Blount: Let the fun begin
What would Daytona be without a little controversy? OK, so the No. 48 team crossed the line in NASCAR's eyes. But let's think big picture here, writes ESPN's Terry Blount. Story
How severe should the penalty be for Chad Knaus? ESPNDallas.com's Eddie Gossage takes a closer look. Blog
HMS owner Rick Hendrick said before Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout that the car is the same one that Johnson ran in all four restrictor plate races last season, including the Daytona 500, and the roof had not been altered.
He added that the car went to NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., for inspection and was returned without any notification of being outside the lines.
"That car, we've run it four times,'' Hendrick said. "It was built for this place and they never touched the roof, and it's been to the Tech Center after they won Talladega (in the spring). All that's been done is paint it, so I don't get it.''
Hendrick acknowledged that this is the same car Knaus was caught on film prior to the October Talladega race telling Johnson to damage the rear end if he won. Johnson's car was taken back to the R&D center after that race and the remaining races in 2011.
Asked if this was in response to that incident, for which Knaus received a reprimand from NASCAR, Hendrick said, "Maybe you can put it together.
"I don't understand," Hendrick continued. "They know the serial numbers of the cars. Our guys swear they have not touched the roof on the car."
Hendrick said he plans to meet with NASCAR to discuss the matter. NASCAR said a decision on penalties wouldn't come until after the February 26 Daytona 500.
"When you take it to the Tech Center, you would think they could see it if they have a problem," he said.
Knaus' only comment on the issue was, "They found some things they didn't like and they asked us to remove them.''
The No. 48 team has replaced the C-posts, practiced it on Saturday and plans to use the car to qualify for the 500 on Sunday.
This is not the first time Knaus and the No. 48 team have faced sanctions before the "Great American Race." In 2006, Knaus was suspended for four races and fined $25,000 when NASCAR discovered a device that pushed the rear window out more than three-quarters of an inch to create a competitive advantage.
Knaus sat out the 500 and Johnson won with Darian Grubb as his interim crew chief. He has been penalized by NASCAR eight other times, two before he arrived at HMS.
Knaus' last penalty came in 2007 when he was suspended for six races after NASCAR claimed the front fender was outside the tolerances at Infineon Raceway.
"You know, I don't like it if we find some flagrant problem," Hendrick said. "I don't like it when someone says I just don't like the looks of it and never put the plate down on it."
NASCAR officials said the issue was discovered before it went through inspection, and was confirmed in inspection. Hendrick disputed that after talking to Knaus and his team, saying NASCAR never used the claw used to measure if a car is in specification.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
2012 Daytona 500
The 54th running of the Daytona 500 is in the books. What started as a new season of hope for all ended its first chapter with one of the most memorable events in NASCAR history.