- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Rick Hendrick recorded a major victory on Tuesday as the majority of the penalties against Jimmie Johnson's racing team for violations discovered prior to the Daytona 500 were overturned.
Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook lifted NASCAR's six-race suspension against crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec, and returned 25 points to Johnson. The $100,000 fine for Knaus was upheld.
"It's been a tough 30 days," Knaus said. "It's not about vindication. It's time to move on."
Johnson agrees with his crew chief. "I'm glad this is over, now it's on to Cali. #6pack," he tweeted in reference to going for his sixth championship.
NASCAR suspended Knaus and Malec after confiscating what officials deemed illegal C-posts during initial inspection for the Daytona 500. Knaus also was fined $100,000.
Hendrick, owner of HMS, immediately appealed the penalty, allowing Knaus and Malec to work with the team until the appeal was heard. The National Stock Car Racing Commission unanimously upheld NASCAR's decision last week.
Hendrick then filed for a final appeal with Middlebrook, a former executive at General Motors paid $1 a year by NASCAR to be the CAO. Hendrick has argued from the beginning the same car passed inspection 16 other times and was OK'd for all four plate races last season.
"We proved today we were legal," Hendrick said. "There were twenty-something cars that were worked on in Daytona, that got to sand and grind and go through inspections. We were not given that opportunity. That was one of the problems I had. There were at least three cars that C-posts were worked on. One of them I sponsored. It got to go back through. That was the problem I had. We didn't get an opportunity to work on the car."
Hendrick said Middlebrook was the key to getting the penalties lifted.
"The difference today was Mr. Middlebrook took an awful lot of time to look at everything that NASCAR had and everything we presented from photos of the car at every race, on the line, the dates, the records from the tech center and our records. And they all matched up real nice," Hendrick said.
"There was no ill intent on our part. We felt by the rulebook we were approved. By the rulebook, the car was legal."
Knaus has been in trouble before with NASCAR and has served three previous suspensions. He had a two-race suspension in 2005 reduced to probation on appeal.
His last suspension was six races in 2007 for an infraction found at Sonoma.
He long has argued he's not an outright cheater, and his infractions have been cases of Knaus finding loopholes in the rulebook or exploiting gray areas. With his five championships, he's considered one of the greatest crew chiefs in NASCAR history. But he reiterated Tuesday, he's not concerned about his reputation.
"It is what it is," he said. "I am not really worried about my reputation; I'm worried about winning races for Hendrick Motorsports. If people don't like the way we do it or what's happened in the past, that's sad.
"I don't like personal digs, because this is a business, this is a sport, but that's the way it is."
Even with the 25-point deduction, Johnson has battled back from ranking 43rd after a second-lap crash at Daytona to 17th with three straight top-10 finishes.
NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said the governing body accepts the ruling and believes in the inspection system.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.