June 28, 2007
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (cbssportsline.com/AP) -- Rick Hendrick won't appeal the penalties NASCAR handed Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, and their crew chiefs will immediately begin their six-race suspensions.
Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte were suspended and fined $100,000 each because the cars for Gordon and Johnson both failed initial inspections last week in California.
Gordon, the four-time series champion, and Johnson, the defending Nextel Cup champion, were each docked 100 points.
"The penalties are excessive," Hendrick, the team owner, said Thursday. "But we're not going to put time and resources into issuing an appeal. Instead, we will direct that energy into our internal processes to make sure we have full confidence that our cars will meet standards when presented for inspection each week."
Notice of intent to appeal would have allowed Knaus and Letarte to work this weekend at New Hampshire International Raceway. Many thought Hendrick would appeal because he'd want his crew chiefs at Sunday's Car of Tomorrow race collecting data in what should be a preview of the Sept. 16 Chase for the championship opener.
Hendrick Motorsports has won 10 of 16 races this season, five of which were COT races. The cars that failed last Friday's inspections at Infineon Raceway were COT's with illegal modifications to the fenders.
Although Hendrick contends his crew chiefs were working in a gray area, NASCAR is taking a zero-tolerance approach toward any interpretations of the rule book concerning the COT. Hendrick believes the sanctioning body is being too strict.
"We've said from the beginning that this would be a learning process, and there would be a lot of give and take between NASCAR and the teams to figure (the COT) out," he said. "That doesn't seem to be the case now, and I don't think it's the right direction to go."
The car chiefs for each team will serve as interim crew chiefs for the next six weeks.
Jeff Meendering will replace Letarte on Gordon's team, which heads into New Hampshire with a 171-point lead over Denny Hamlin in the Nextel Cup standings. Meendering started sweeping floors at Hendrick when he was 16 in 1994 and has been a part of 10 championship teams along the way.
Ron Malec will replace Knaus on Johnson's crew. Malec has been friends with Johnson for more than a decade, and the two were once roommates during their early racing days. They moved to North Carolina in 1999 and are original members of the team Hendrick formed for Johnson in 2001.
"Ron has been our backbone from the beginning and he'll do a terrific job," Knaus said. "It's not the way I wanted to see him get an opportunity, but he's ready and more than capable of getting it done."
Because Malec also changes tires on race day, former Hendrick crew chief Lance McGrew will assist him on top of the pit box during the next six weeks.
This is Knaus' second suspension in two years -- he missed four races last year when he was caught cheating during Daytona 500 preparations. Darian Grubb, an engineer on the crew, replaced him and led Johnson to two wins in four weeks. Grubb is now crew chief for Casey Mears.
Knaus and Letarte will resume track duties for the Aug. 19 race at Michigan International Speedway.
The Associated Press News Service