Sports

NASCAR: Johnson’s Crew Chief Busted At Daytona For Illegal Car, Penalties Likely

JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer
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DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 17: Crew members work on the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson after NASCAR confiscated C-posts due to a modification violation in an initial inspection at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 17: Crew members work on the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson after NASCAR confiscated C-posts due to a modification violation in an initial inspection at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — NASCAR will likely penalize the crew chief for five-time champion Jimmie Johnson for infractions found during Daytona 500 inspection.

NASCAR president Mike Helton said Saturday its a “high likelihood” crew chief Chad Knaus will be penalized. But, Helton indicated punishment would not be doled out until after the Feb. 26 season-opening Daytona 500 race.

The No. 48 Chevrolet had illegally modified sheet metal between the roof and the side windows — the area known as the C-posts — that was found in Friday’s opening day inspection.

NASCAR took the C-posts from the Hendrick Motorsports team and shipped them to its research and development facility.

Knaus has been suspended twice before by NASCAR, including before the 2006 Daytona 500. But Helton said the difference is that 2006’s penalty resulted from infractions in a post-qualifying inspection — meaning something was changed on the car after it had arrived at the track.

Friday’s incident “fits in the category of prerace inspection issues that we’ve had in the past,” Helton said Saturday morning.

“It will warrant a reaction from us more so than what you’ve seen already, . more than what we’ve done so far,” he added.

Knaus was also suspended in 2007 for violations to the body of the No. 48 Chevrolet discovered during opening-day inspection at Sonoma. He was allowed to finish the weekend, but was suspended for six weeks after the event.

Last year, the crew chiefs for Michael Waltrip Racing were found to have altered windshields at Talladega. They completed the race weekend, but were fined $50,000 each and suspended four weeks after the event.

Knaus has not been seriously punished by NASCAR since 2007, although he was scrutinized last season when in-car audio captured him telling Johnson to “crack” the back of the car against the wall if he won at Talladega — an apparent effort to skirt a potential post-race inspection.

NASCAR said the audio was not enough evidence to warrant any punishment.

But asked Saturday if Knaus’ previous history would be taken into consideration when a penalty is issued, Helton was vague.

“It certainly makes you scratch your head,” Helton said. “What we’ve learned over time is to, in the heat of the battle, try to accomplish what we immediately are after, which is to get all the cars inspected and get them on the race track and then sit back and kind of digest it all.

“But you do kind of scratch your head on a name that reoccurs,” Helton said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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