The Frontstretch: Your Cheating Art: Analyzing The Knaus/Hendrick Penalty by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday March 1, 2012

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Your Cheating Art: Analyzing The Knaus/Hendrick Penalty

MPM2Nite · Matt McLaughlin · Thursday March 1, 2012


NASCAR handed down their penalties to the No. 48 team for unapproved C-pillars on their Chevy Wednesday, and a lot of folks were surprised by how harsh they were. Chad Knaus, crew chief for the team, was fined $100,000. He and car chief Ron Malec were suspended for six weeks and will be on NASCAR probation until May 9th. Jimmie Johnson will lose 25 driver points, meaning he heads to Phoenix with a total of -23, a whopping 70 points out of the lead (and 58 out of a Chase berth.) Car owner Jeff Gordon will also be docked 25 owner points. (Let’s clear up a little confusion here, since people are already asking me. Jeff Gordon, not Rick Hendrick is listed as the team owner for the No. 48 car. The 25-point penalty does not, in any way, affect the driver points Gordon earns in the No. 24.)

After a horrible Speedweeks, with two wrecks and a 42nd-place finish in the Daytona 500 the season has gone from bad to worse for Jimmie Johnson with a 25-point penalty for technical violations.

What did Knaus do to bring down the wrath of NASCAR? Quoting from the original press release: The No. 48 car was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4J (any determination by NASCAR officials that race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the rule book or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the event); and 20-2.1E (if in the judgment of NASCAR officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance will not be permitted — unapproved car body modifications).

We all know that “actions detrimental to stock car racing” is pretty much a catch-all penalty that can cover anything from cussing to saying something negative about NASCAR they don’t care for. 12-4J is an odd rule to cite, because the car never took to the track. 20-2.1E is the most serious accusation and what, to my mind at least is at the heart of the matter and the smoking gun. Sure, some other cars have run afoul of the templates in NASCAR’s room of doom. Those cars were precluded from taking to the track until repairs were made, but no further penalties were issued. In NASCAR’s eyes, those were sins of inadvertency or negligence. The No. 48 car was different. It’s NASCAR’s determination (and remember, it’s their stick and ball) that this modification was no slip-up or accident. The alterations to the car were purposely made, done to enhance its performance and give Johnson an unfair advantage over the other drivers and their teams. The way the C-pillars were shaped would have directed much of the air flowing down the sides of the car away from the rear spoiler, reducing drag and thus increasing speed even with a restrictor plate engine. An aerodynamic engineer involved with the sport told me the advantage would have been sufficient enough that Johnson would have had to play with the throttle to keep it from being too obvious.

So are the penalties fair, too stiff, or not harsh enough? Let’s look at them. 100,000 dollars means nothing. Rick Hendrick will pay that amount without blinking an eye. He probably spends more than that on hospitality on a race weekend. Recall Carl Long got fined twice that for running an engine that was a teaspoon of displacement over the 358 cubic inch limit and offered no performance advantage. Despite finishing 42nd, Johnson and the No. 48 team’s winnings are listed at just over 360,000 dollars for the Daytona 500 due to the complex nature of NASCAR’s awards system.

In this digital age, Knaus’s six-week suspension isn’t as big a deal as it used to be. He’ll be able to keep working at the shop preparing cars for Johnson. Via cell phone, he’ll be able to remain in constant contact with any interim crew chief chosen to sub for him. He’ll be able to monitor Johnson’s radio transmissions online and may even be able to watch in-car views from the No. 48 to better analyze what’s going on. They’ve got a lot of depth on the bench at Hendrick Motorsports. Recall the last time Knaus was suspended Darian Grubb, then an HMS employee, filled in and Johnson won the Daytona 500.

The loss of 25 points is a somewhat bigger deal, even this early in the season. For all Hendrick’s money, you can’t buy points (not driver points, anyway). This deficit leaves Johnson with a serious hole to climb out of. Still, he has 25 races to do so. Even if he fails to make the cut, it’s all but unimaginable Johnson won’t win at least a couple races prior to the cutoff for the Chase and, as such, he’ll be eligible for one of the two Wild Card slots to get in. (In that scenario, it just makes things tougher for one of the smaller teams to make the Chase.)

Considering the above, my opinion is NASCAR went too easy on the No. 48 team and Knaus. I’m not buying this excuse the misshaped sheet metal was a mistake. None of the other Hendrick cars prepared for the Shootout or the 500 (along with their backups) had the same modification. When the team was told those parts had to be removed and replaced, they surely had a replacement set that conformed with the rules awfully quickly, didn’t they? Even Rick Hendrick’s complaint seems to condemn the team. Hendrick says the No. 48 car that was flagged for the infraction was the same one that the team raced at all four plate races. Does that mean the car was legal? No, it just means they got away with it last year. And if, in fact, the failed car was the same one used last fall at Talladega during the Chase then Knaus clearly knew it wasn’t compliant. You’ll remember the uproar when Knaus was heard telling Johnson if he were to win that race, he should back the car into the wall during the victory celebration. He knew if that car was taken to the R and D center, as all winning Cup cars are there was a risk it was going to be found illegal. That pretty much deflates the “but the car never even got out on the track” argument of one of my colleagues here at the Frontstretch. I think we can all agree that HMS didn’t haul that car down to Daytona to display it in the parking lot at some burger joint.

Chad Knaus may have been busted for cheating multiple times, but that hasn’t stopped team owner Rick Hendrick from offering his unconditional support.

Knaus and the entire Hendrick Motorsports team are habitual offenders when it comes to running afoul of NASCAR. Let’s make an important distinction here. In my personal opinion and that of most people in the sport, Rick Hendrick as an individual is a fine and principled man. He’s done countless charitable acts to help his employees, others in the sport and even strangers. He suffered through unimaginable loss following the team’s plane crash on Bull Mountain and did so with admirable Christian grace, his faith unshaken. But that’s Rick Hendrick as a man. The racing organization he owns has a corporate culture of cheating. It was true with Ray Evernham and the No. 24 team and it’s well-documented with Chad Knaus and the No. 48 bunch. Even when team members are caught red-handed cheating, there are no serious repercussions. Those employees are not terminated and even if they’re suspended, they continue to be paid. If they are fined, the boss pays the damages. HMS’ business philosophy is to win at any cost and apparently by any means necessary. In that sort of business environment, cheating is going to flourish. Forget that old fairy tale that cheaters never win unless you add a codicil: “Well, they don’t win anymore than five straight titles, anyway.”

The fact cars can be found to be outside the rules after a race and yet the driver keeps the win is one of the things casual fans and non-fans of the sport can’t come to grips with. It gives our sport a black eye and reduces stock car racing to the tier of professional wrestling in many folk’s opinions. And it’s time for NASCAR to crack down in a meaningful way. Money isn’t going to do it. Suspensions aren’t going to do it. Even points penalties (and I think at least a 50-point penalty was due in this case) probably won’t do it. If NASCAR is serious about policing the ranks, it’s time to drop the big one. If I had a vote, the penalty for the No. 48 team would have been a three-week suspension for the entire outfit. That means a serious loss of points and income but more importantly some sponsor (in this case, Lowe’s) isn’t going to have their rolling billboard out there for three straight races and that’s not going to make them happy. The loss of advertising exposure and the humiliation of being involved with a cheating scandal might even make them decide to terminate their sponsorship agreement, and in this economy that’s going to get everyone’s rapt attention. In addition, just to make sure the team got the message I’d warn them that each subsequent offense would earn stiffer penalties still and that any driver or team (and I am talking any team here, not just the No. 48) found guilty enough of a infraction sufficient to warrant a suspension would be ineligible to compete in the Chase that season. I think maybe that would be sufficient to put everyone on notice.

So what happens next? Hendrick Motorsports has announced they will appeal these penalties. Since there probably isn’t time for an appeal to be heard prior to Phoenix, Knaus will be atop the box, a track where Johnson has won four times. When the appeal board hears the case, they have four options. They can dismiss the penalty, reduce it, uphold it, or even increase the sanctions. Odds aren’t good the consequences will be dismissed, but fortunately for Knaus and the No. 48 team, I’m not a member of the board. I’d vote for that three-race team suspension.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Carl D.
03/01/2012 07:40 AM

History shows that teams push the envelope all the time. However, if your description of the infraction is accurate, this goes beyond bending the rules; this is blatant cheating. Add to that the fact that Knaus is a habitual offender, and you have a situation that I think deserves a harsher punishment by Nascar than what they have imposed. Personally, I think Chad Knaus should have to sit out the rest of the season.

03/01/2012 09:08 AM

As someone who had to sit through all five years of this jackass winning championships, and listening to the reports that ooh and aah over Jimmie and Chad, this crap makes me want to gag. Those five championships are BS. Would love to see how much money “Mister” Hendrick has paid Brian France under the table over the past 20 years. And what’s the deal with his employees having to call him Mister? To me, that is team propaganda. When Kasey Kahne, in the same breath, called his then-boss, 7-time Champion and the King of stock car racing, “Richard”, then called Rick “Mister Hendrick”, I was disgusted.

I wholeheartedly disagree that Rick Hendrick is a fine and principled man. He gives to charity to look good. He was convicted of over a dozen federal crimes, yet spent only a year in house arrest. And he runs an operation that makes Congress look honest. Yeah, he’s had personal tragedy, but who hasn’t? That doesn’t make it OK for him to be a cheating felon that doesn’t pay the consequences of his actions.

03/01/2012 09:09 AM

That should be “the France family”, not just Brian.

Bill B
03/01/2012 09:24 AM

I kind of feel the same way Matt. This whole thing makes me wonder if it’s possible to be successful in this sport without questionable methods. Were any of the great drivers really that much better than their competition or did they just have their day’s Chad Knaus.
Most of us want to see people succeed through hard work, perserverence and perhaps some good luck. Instead what we see are that many of the people that get ahead (in sports, in business, in politics, etc.) did so by bending rules or taking short cuts. It gets old after a while when you play by the rules and those who don’t get ahead.

03/01/2012 11:01 AM

Yes the 48 team will in a deep hole, looking at being about a race and a half down in points which is hard to make up. Though still early in the season, all JJ really has to do is win at least 2 of the next 25 races to qualify for the lame chase championship. Certainly capable of doing that, and with the lame 10 race DO-OVER chase format, anything can happen. Tony stewart proved that last year.

Keep's Boy
03/01/2012 11:48 AM

If the infraction is so serious that your “aero engineer source” tells you he’d have to manage the throttle to avoid running through the field and making it an obvious mockery, AND if that same car with the same infractions was supposedly run last year (I still think Chad was screwing with the audience talking right into the mic knowingly .. he is smarter than that folks .. ), then why didn’t that car smoke the field in last year’s plate races? Sure he won one, but far from dominant fashion. You’d think he’d have ran a little better at Talladega .. in the CHASE .. with that supposedly cheated-out dominant car, eh??

The Mad Man
03/01/2012 12:20 PM

if they really wanted to get serious about penalizing a team for cheating during a race, NASCAR would start enforcing the disqualification rule again. But as money takes precedence it won’t happen.

As to the current Knaus situation, based on his previous track record, I’d have suspended him for the entire season. Maybe that would get the attention of both him & the team owner?

The former felon and BZF will have a few drinks at Slick Rick’s place, discuss the situation, and all will be right when the appeal’s board reviews the situation.

03/01/2012 12:29 PM

Matt, I normally agree with almost everything you write but your following statement made me want to gag: “In my personal opinion and that of most people in the sport, Rick Hendrick as an individual is a fine and principled man.” Are you frikin’ serious? Hendrick’s automotive empire and personal fortune is based upon the felony bribes he paid to Honda executives. The man has no integrity or scruples. He has been a cheat from day one—long before he ever entered NASCAR

03/01/2012 12:41 PM

mark me down with the crowd that thinks nascar has far too many rules and polices them only when it is to their own benefit even if that’s only to be vindictive.

03/01/2012 12:43 PM

My gripe is with this stupid “detrimental” rule. It’s all encompassing for anything NASCAR wants it to be on any given day. It only feeds into the dictatorship that is NASCAR.

With all these pundits beating Chad down it’s kind of funny that the vast majority of other crew chiefs appreciate his willingness to walk in the gray areas. Not a single crew chief to date has criticized him. It’s racing folks, it ain’t neurosurgery! NASCAR has always had gray areas that everyone involved has used. NASCAR does enough to appear PC, Chad is doing the job that he gets paid well to do and he does it well. He’s made a long journey from floor sweeper to crew chief.

IMO Rick and Richard are two totally different people in how they are viewed by the public. Richard is blue collar an everyday man to everybody. He probably would be far from comfortable being called Mr Petty. He is too close to most of us to be addressed that way. Rick on the other hand is a businessman, a very good businessman. He simply doesn’t fit as one of the boy’s. I’m pretty sure that he gets addressed as Mr Hendrick out of respect by his employees because of how he treats them. I certainly don’t think he orders them to do it. Richard get’s called the “KING” out of respect because of who he is and what he has done. By the older fans anyway.

03/01/2012 12:46 PM

Jeez…many of these comments make it sound like you want to just turn the Cup series into an IROC race. Chad and the 48 crew were doing their jobs. They are supposed to find as much speed as possible based on the outline provided by NASCAR. This sounds just like a typical NASCAR after the fact reaction. Just like when they were fined for the fenders, the ‘claw’ fit but that isn’t what NASCAR meant. My bet is that the C posts were within tolerance but that NASCAR figured out that Chad had found a way to stay in compliance but gain an advantage. They don’t like the fact that he can outthink all of their rule makers, hence the penalty.

03/01/2012 01:05 PM

Matt your an idot, the car never went thru inspection,
nascar never put the templete on the car, it was just in the inspectors opioin it was wrong and they told Chad to fixed it. Maybe if it was Carl your opioin would be different, but they too have been caught cheating. Every team has done the exact same thing

03/01/2012 01:14 PM

I was hoping to steer conversation towards yesterday’s penalties, but any time you mention Rick Hendrick in either a positive or negative light you immeadiately have someone yelling “FELON
How many of you know what Rick was charged with and ultimately convicted of? It goes back to a friend of Rick’s he met as a teenager. I think the guy’a name was Bilmeyer, or at least that’s close. Bilmeyer was a bigshot at American Honda. He helped Rick get his first Honda dealership. The dealership flourished and Rick wanted to open more Honda dealerships. His friend said that might be possible….for a nice little payoff. Hendrick’s Honda dealerships thrived. In that era Honda didn’t even need a marketing campaign. The cars rolled off the trucks and consumers paid list for them. Supply exceeded demand. In order to get cars you had to pay someone off. SOme of the smaller dealers couldn’t or wouldn’t pay to play and went out of business. So when Rick paid off Bilmeyer and others was what he was doing, right or ethical. Nope. But it’s the way of the auto sales industry. I worked at a Ford dealership in the mid 80s. That year’s hottest cars were the 85 Mustang GT. Ford couldn’t make enough of them because the wheel supplier, Alcoa, couldn’t keep up with demand. So yes the busines owner and general manager paid off the right folks to get 5.0s rolling onto our lot. And it went beyond that. There was another Ford dealer a half hour away. In that era no dealership would do a dealer trade (trading cars betwen dealerships) on a GT unless they got another GT in return. The new car manager there would trade us GTs for other cars, as long as there was money in an envelope for him. Eventually he got caught and fired so naturally he ended up working at the dealership where I was employed. I think that had been part of the plan all along. It’s a shady business. You either play along or move along.

Bill B
03/01/2012 01:21 PM

I have a better way of addressing the kind of man Rick Hendrick is. Have you ever heard anyone in NASCAR talk badly about him? All I ever hear in interviews with other NASCAR insiders (you know, the people that deal with him first hand and not just from what they hear in the news) is what a stand-up, helpful and nice guy he is. Doesn’t that count for anything?
He could be a total ass for all I know but if he was I think you’d hear a lot more negative feedback from those he comes into contact with during interviews.

03/01/2012 02:28 PM

Matt a FELON is a FELON no matter how you try to spin it!! He broke the law, got caught and paid the price and bought himself a full pardon from a crooked President!!…..He STILL did the crime and earned his name!…once a turd always a turd. The crime may change but the crimes will continue….he just does it in nascrap now!!

03/01/2012 02:35 PM

Until (at least!) the DRIVER is held completely responsible for the actions of his team, nothing will change. “If I had a vote, the penalty for the No. 48 team would have been a three-week suspension for the entire outfit.” Damn straight, Matt!

03/01/2012 02:39 PM

Smoke and mirrors folks.

This makes nascar look like they are “cracking down” on Hendrick when it’s really nothing but a good show.

Just like the PGA doesn’t want to find out Tiger Woods took PEDs.

It would be a HUGE black eye to Nascar and “5 time” for fans and media to find out the 48 cheated to those championships.

This is nascar trying to smooth over the video of Chad telling JJ to wreck to car.

I bet all involved are getting a good laugh out of this….all the way to the bank.

03/01/2012 02:42 PM

I’m pretty sure a lot of other race teams do this too.

03/01/2012 02:43 PM

Wasn’t it last year Chad got caught with the cable and pin trick to drop the rear glass or deck to gain an advantage? I see a pattern developing. When certain drivers spun other drivers out, they were parked for one race. Which is more detrimental to the sport, trying to kill another driver or trying to win a race at all costs by body modification?

Carl D.
03/01/2012 03:14 PM

Whether or not Rick Hendrick is Satan or a saint is irrelevant. The issue is whether or not Knaus broke the rules. If he did, he deserves to be appropriately penalized. We can talk all day about what’s really appropriate, but Rick Hendrick’s character isn’t part of that discussion. Also, it doesn’t matter if other crew chiefs do the same thing or whether they “appreciate his willingness to walk in the gray areas”. You break the rules, you pay the price.

just talking
03/01/2012 03:26 PM

Matt – you are out of control here. You and Nascar are both reacting to last year’s radio conversation.

If last year’s car was so good, how come the 48 was not better in the Chase Talledega? A race where cheating would have really paid off.

This was practice. You should be able to use a jet engine if you want. How do you know that Knaus would not want to learn something to use for the race, and go back into spec.

No templates used, no real measurement as far as I read.

This is PR or pay back to someone else by Nascar. No wonder non-Nascar fans think this is wrestling. Have at it boys is OK – but not in this case. Yellow line is a penalty – but not in this case. Swearing on TV is a penalty – but not in this case. On and on – arbitrary enforcement.

Less rules – consistent enforcement.

Don Mei
03/01/2012 03:27 PM

Maybe Ive just been around racing too long but after I toss my two cents into this debate, feel free to jump on my back. First, I dont give a fat rats ass about Rick Hendrick; what he did or didnt do to keep getting Hondas for his dealership has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the discussion here. Calling him the felon or howling about what a good/bad guy he is/is not is a complete waste of everybodys time here. Personally, I think Nascar overstepped their bounds. What has happened to the rules the last ten years or so is an absolute joke. We have spec cars now; they are all identical except for the grille decal. Racing is supposed to be about technical innovation, the “unfair advantage “ one team gets over another because they work harder or smarter than the next team. The rules are so ridiculously restrictive now they stifle imagination and cleverness. Loosen up the spoiler rule, use some basic templates and stop it there. I cant believe we are all being critical of Knaus for figuring out a way to use the air to keep the tail down at high speed! You would think that was a good thing and that after word got out, everyonewould be doing it and all the cars out their would benefit.I mean for gods sake can you imagine some of the heroes of our sport like Yunick and Lee Petty putting up with this Mickey Mouse crap? Brians body would have been found face down in the lake a long time ago.

03/01/2012 03:32 PM

It is about time that someone in the media said these things

Bill B
03/01/2012 04:00 PM

I think most people would agree with you. But what’s your point? That NASCAR’s rules suck? I think we all agree with that but the point here is a rule was broken. You can argue about templates and everything else but the precedence was set at Sonoma in 2007 (or 2008?) “DON’T F WITH THE BODY OF THE CAR!!!!”
For some reason Chad just can’t (or won’t) get that through his head.

Kevin in SoCal
03/01/2012 04:02 PM

I’m not a fan of Johnson, Knaus or Hendrick, but I still think some comments are more influenced by people’s opinion of the #48 team than actual justice or fairness. And my opinion is, pre-race inspection should be a warning only that it needs to be fixed before the car gets on the track surface. Anything found after practice should be a penalty, and anything found after qualifying or the race should be a suspension.

03/01/2012 04:10 PM

Concerning Johnaon’s Chase Race at Talladega last year (thenow infamous back it in race) I seem to recall Johnson was paired with the 88 running at the back of the field most of the day to avoid the wrecks. When they chose to they could charge to the front at will. A few late cautions screwed with thier plans and both suffered miserable finishes but it wasn’t like those HMS cars didn’t have speed.

03/01/2012 05:23 PM

Is polishing the car’s paintjob to make it slicker in the wind cheating? Or is it not, because everyone does it? If you could stick a wad of gum on each fender to help it go faster, is that cheating? The car fit the templates, didn’t it? If the problem wasn’t caught before, maybe was assumed it was okay. That is what prerace inspections are for. If it was caught and not allowed, and still tried to run with it…then it IS cheating!

Don Mei
03/01/2012 06:05 PM

Bill, My point is pretty basic, yes..the rules suck but Im not sure what rule he broke here. My point is simple, the rules need to be changed to encourage technical innovation. Otherwise its god damned kit car racing, because Nascar is simply doing what it can to appease the auto companies and major sponsors. I get it..its all about the “show”; doesnt mean I have to either like it or stay quiet about it.

03/01/2012 06:34 PM

“That pretty much deflates the “but the car never even got out on the track” argument of one of my colleagues here at the Frontstretch. I think we can all agree that HMS didn’t haul that car down to Daytona to display it in the parking lot at some burger joint.”

Well said.

When you bring it to the track that way you obviously intended to race it that way. Initial inspection is not some isolated happening that is divorced from “the event” but, rather, it is an integral part of “the event” — which lasts from the moment the competitors are allowed onto the premises until the gates are locked behind them after they leave.

You simply can’t bring modified parts to the track and present them for initial inspection then expect people to believe that you actually intended to remove them and replace them with legal parts before taking the car onto the track.

03/01/2012 09:08 PM

You guys that are saying “the car fit the template” need to look at the rule book. Just because the car fits where the claw makes contact with the car, that doesn’t constitute legal. You can’t have the body bulging out in points between. Moreover, as already said, you can’t mess with the NASCAR’s body design.

03/02/2012 02:53 PM

2 points I would like to make.

1) nascar told these guys long ago that there won’t be any warnings if they show up to the track and fail pre race inspection. It was made clear when the COT was introduced

2.) I think its safe to say that most real fans want more innovation from crew chiefs, but until Nascar changes those rules, infractions of this sort are going to be penalized. Hate the lack of innovation but this does not change the fact that as the rules are now, Chad broke them.

Everyone is talking about him making the Chase, but a few more bad finishes and he won’t be able to stay in the top 35 after the 5th race. At least he has the champs provisional to fall back on unless Tony happens to fall out as well.