Jimmie Johnson's Daytona 500 car flunks inspection

By Reid Spencer NASCAR Wire Service

Daytona Beach, FL (Special to HNN) -- Busted again.

Over the years, Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, has earned the reputation as one of the most adept, creative thinkers in the Sprint Cup garage when it comes to pushing NASCAR rules to the absolute limit.

On Friday at Daytona International Speedway, he pushed too far, and NASCAR confiscated the "C" posts from the No. 48 Chevrolet that Jimmie Johnson will drive in the Feb. 26 Daytona 500.

"The 48 car had a body modification on it that was outside of what our tolerances are, what the original surface definitions for the body were," Sprint Cup Series director John Darby told reporters. "There were some obvious modifications that the template inspectors picked up on and did some additional inspections with some gauges and stuff and found that they were just too far out of tolerance to fix.

"So they were removed from the car and I think the team is working now to get the correct pieces flown down here so they can get welded back in."

In fact, the 48 team was attaching the new, legal "C" posts as practice began for the Budweiser Shootout at 5 p.m. ET.

According to sources, the specifics of the violation involved a modification to the shape of the "C" posts designed to take air off the rear spoiler and give the car an aerodynamic advantage.

This is not Knaus' first infraction involving a body modification. In June 2007 at Sonoma, Knaus and Steve Letarte, then crew chief for Jeff Gordon, were fined $100,000 each and suspended for six races for modifications to the front fenders that fell outside the allowable norms.

NASCAR won't determine what penalties, if any, Knaus will incur for the current violations until after the Daytona 500. NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said repairing the cars should end the matter until the series leaves Daytona.

"We'll be done with it," Pemberton said. "After it gets through inspection, we'll go on for the next 10 days or so and go through Speedweeks and, like always, we'll reconvene at the R&D center post-race and do all our cleanups for whatever happens for the next week or so."

Based on past experience, those "cleanups" could include substantial penalties for Knaus and the No. 48 team.

Knaus has borrowed trouble at Daytona before. In 2006, after Johnson's qualifying run, Knaus was dismissed from the track after NASCAR found an unapproved modification to the rear window of the No. 48 Chevy.

Knaus served a four-race suspension, but Johnson went on to win the Daytona 500 and the first of his record five straight Cup championships.

During the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Knaus pushed body position tolerances to the limit, prompting NASCAR to take the cars of Johnson and Mark Martin to its research & development center in Concord, N.C., for laser measurements after the last seven Chase races.

Those measures were considered preventive, and no penalties were incurred.

But Darby acknowledged that Friday's violations were most closely related to the 2007 infractions.

"I think it kind of falls in line with other body violations that we've seen in the past," Darby said. "Somebody mentioned Sonoma. It's typical to that. Or I think there was a car here in a Fourth of July race that had a roof that was too small, some other things.

"We're pretty serious about the body configurations of the cars for all of the right reasons. This was a modification that had been made to the car that put it outside that box."

NASCAR introduced a new-generation racecar in 2007, and with it a far lower tolerance for unapproved modifications to the body. Not only does a car have to pass inspection at the racetrack, but it also must conform to comprehensive construction specifications NASCAR provides to each team.

"In the old days, teams used to work in between the templates, and that all stopped in 2007, and that's ultimately where the violation of this one lies," Darby said.

The No. 48 car earmarked for the Saturday night Budweiser Shootout passed inspection on Thursday. The Daytona 500 cars of Hendrick Motorsports teammates Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne likewise passed inspection on Friday.

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