The 48 Team Appeal: Looking at Both Sides

 Crew chief, Chad Knaus and Car chief, Ron Malec 
are both subject to a NASCAR imposed six-week suspension
Photo – Jamie Squire/Getty Images

“As far as my reputation goes, I’m not too concerned about that.”  

– Chad Knaus 48 Team Crew Chief 

Once again, Rick Hendrick will defend the 48 team on Tuesday, March 20th. This time he will present their “shades of gray” defense to the Chief Appellate Officer, John Middlebrook.  

On the surface, it certainly appears, this may be the 48 team’s best chance at getting their penalty reduced with a two-point defense and perhaps an ace up their sleeve, that may explain Jimmie Johnson’s vote of confidence saying, the appeal will be in their favor when all is said and done on Tuesday. 

Defense one: The 48 team worked within the gray area of the C-post. That area not covered by the template NASCAR uses to measure the car as part of their inspection process. In Daytona, the car was never presented for template measurement.

Defense two: The same 48 car passed the inspection process multiple times in the 2011 season, without incident. 

And one possible ace up their sleeve is in playing their cards on the outcome of Middlebrook’s first appeal case in 2010. 

The 2010 case involved team owner Richard Childress disputing driver Clint Bowyer’s team penalties after the first race of the Chase which include 150 driver/owner points, a $150,000 fine and suspension of crew chief Shane Wilson for six races. Middlebrook did not reduce the points penalty but did reduce fines to $100,000 and the crew chief suspension to four races. So why not take this appeal as far as possible in hopes of at least reducing some portion of the penalty…right?

Moving along to NASCAR’s argument to uphold the penalty, those objectively looking at both sides of this particular situation, will find Hendrick’s “shades of gray” seem to fade when NASCAR’s perspective comes into focus as a “black and white” issue. Their argument centers on a sanctioning body decision to maintain integrity in the bodywork of all cars with a strict standard to address concerns by Team Owners and Sponsors of unfair advantages between smaller and larger funded teams. The intent of their well-publicized decision is to equalize the playing field, leaving a no gray area for teams to alter any part of the strict specifications provided by NASCAR. The strict standard was made clear to all teams not only when the decision was made, but was further clarified specifically to the 48 team in 2007 when they were caught with flared fenders in Sonoma. 

Scene Daily reports the specific NASCAR rule restated for the 48 team in 2007 is simply this,

“Streamlining the contours of the cars, beyond that approved by the Series Director, will not be permitted.” 

Seems to be straight forward and clearly stated. Knowing this rule was clearly articulated for the the 48 team – not once but twice – creates a huge hole in Hendrick’s “defense one.” This particular rule is in place entirely because there is no template covering every inch of the car during inspection. Furthermore, it was revealed in the appeal panel review last Tuesday, the officials in Daytona used gauges to measure the C-Posts after a visual inspection gave cause to do so. Those gauge measurements actually aided the officials’ determination – the C-Posts did not meet the specifications provided by NASCAR for the specific body part. 

Do you teach our children about ethics?
Do you abide by the same ethical standard?

The argument from some is that Knaus is suppose to exploit the boundaries of the rules. Really? When NASCAR is clearly stating their intention to level the playing field in relationship to the contours of the car at the request of team owners and sponsors, the argument is that Chad Knaus and other crew chiefs are simply doing their job by directly ignoring the stated rules to exploit the intention of the sanctioning body? Wow, is this the same ethical standard you teach to your children? 

Sorry, that argument simply does not hold water in this case. While there may be a small window of opportunity in other areas of the car, it’s plainly stated in the rules, the contour of the car is not one of those areas. In 2007, Knaus certainly tested his boundaries of the rules and was given another chance to demonstrate his understanding of the limitations within the stated rule. So what did he do with his reduced penalties provided via the appeals process? Yeah, you’ve got it, Knaus blatantly, ignored those limitations and boundaries…again. Although this offense was discovered in 2012, Hendrick and Knaus admit the car ran on the track in violation of the stated rules multiple times in 2011.  

Hendrick “defense two” loses credibility when you realize the 48 team knew they were modifying a specific body part that was not specifically approved by NASCAR’s Series Director. Surely, they would know if they took these parts to the series director specifically for the purpose of getting an approval. They did not take these steps, because they knew the part was in violation of the rule. In fact, it becomes difficult to believe anyone actually thinks defense two might work.  Hendrick is in essence saying, because no one said anything when we knowingly broke the rules several times in 2011, so the team should not be penalized since we were not caught those multiple times before the Daytona 2012 discovery.  

To fully understand just how absurd this defense truly is, just think about how well this same strategy would work for a traffic offender when a police officer stops the offender for a mere traffic violation.  Let’s try this out to make the point imminently clear. 

You can’t be serious?

“Officer, I can’t believe you are going to give me a ticket when I’ve run through red lights so many times before and no one said anything to me.” 

And to make matters worse, the traffic offender goes on to say, 

“Since no one ever stopped me before, I thought it was OK for me to run through red lights.” 

Sounds like a pretty lame excuse, because it “is a lame” excuse. 

Let’s take this one step further and analyze what these two statements truly say about the traffic offender.  

One, this person has no respect for traffic laws or the governing body putting those laws into place.

Two, this person apparently also has no regard for others that could be affected by their abuse of the law.  

Three, this person clearly has no regard for themselves, personally as they could also be harmed by this practice, including the damage to their reputation in using such a frivolous defense.  

Chad Knaus is creating his personal reputation
Even though he’s not concerned about that.

Amazing, there’s that word again…”reputation.” Ah, that’s right. Chad Knaus said in regard to the multiple penalties levied against him during his career as a NASCAR crew chief… 

“As far as my reputation goes, I’m not too concerned about that.”  

Apparently, he also has no respect for the governing body, the rules they have put in place and have clearly stated – not once but twice. Nor does he have any respect for others within his team, or the sport affected by his clearly demonstrated lack of respect

With NASCAR’s perspective clarified, it appears there would be only one choice that truly makes sense for John Middlebrook.  Especially taking into consideration that NASCAR understood Mr. Middlebrook’s perspective when their Childress penalties were reduced from $150,000 to $100,000. So, NASCAR levied a $100,000 fine against repeat offender, Chad Knaus. They even made concessions with the point penalties within a new points structure, with only 25-point deductions for the driver and owner and with an entire season remaining to recover those points vs. the 150 points deducted from Clint Bowyer’s championship hopes in 2010 with only nine races remaining in the season. The disparities are evident with the concessions already provided by NASCAR to the 48 Team. 

Where is NASCAR drawing the line in the sand? The six-race suspension of the most penalized crew chief in the garage. And if the suspension holds, he will still be burning up his phone battery communicating with his team while he is away from the track. 

Everyone with an interest in NASCAR will be watching for the outcome of the Hendrick appeal and how they play their cards knowing they have weak defense strategies in place. What is presented here is what has been made public. The weakness in the Hendrick defense is apparent and there’s not a lot of rocket science involved here. However, there may be some unknowns and that could put a wild card in play. 

What folks really want to know, is how John Middlebrook will respond to the Hendrick strategy. Why do we want to know? Because his response will impact the integrity and the way this sport plays out in the future. 

Either the game is played by the strict standards currently in place; Or those choosing to not play by the same rules are further enabled to manipulate the system. The same system put in place to equalize the field as requested by team owners and sponsors. Honestly, if the latter occurs, does that not equate to an epic fail in the process? 

John Middlebrook, will either open pandora’s box for everyone, eroding the sanctioning body’s strict standards; Or once again, the Hendrick 48 team will have the rules clarified and penalties upheld with the intention of ending any doubt of the already twice given rule which is clearly stated and strictly standardized for all teams. 

The next question that comes to mind – where is the line drawn for Chad Knaus, if after this appeal, he once again demonstrates his disregard for the governing body, his team, peers, and the integrity of the sport? How many more penalties will be tolerated from someone who clearly has no respect for his personal reputation and yet incredibly, anticipates to one day be nominated for NASCAR’s Hall of Fame? With the 48 team penalties piling up and violations not yet discovered, doesn’t this idea seem a bit surreal? 

Chad Knaus has openly stated, he could care less about the asterisk next to his name or his drivers’ name detailing numerous penalties throughout his career. But how long will Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson continue to enable the erosion of their personal and team reputations? If they do continue to enable Knaus’ blatant disregard of the rules, they deserve the negative reputation that will certainly follow.  

It seems fairly simple – The “rules don’t apply to me” behavior of the 48 team must change for any sense of credibility to have any chance of being restored for the Hendrick organization and specifically Chad Knaus. Who is expecting this restored credibility? The sponsors, owners, teams, drivers and fans. With the weak defense of the Hendrick 48 team and multiple infractions throughout the past decade, anything less is indeed an epic fail of the process. 

Will Chad Knaus get the message this time?  Either way this might be his last chance to prove he has any sense of integrity and respect for himself and others within NASCAR as well. Winning at the cost of integrity can be a house of cards that one day will most certainly come tumbling down. 

The opinions expressed with this blog are solely those of the writer.  Those with similar and varying perspectives are invited to respectfully post your comments below, providing readers with both supporting and challenging points of view. 

Thanks in advance for your participation in the on-going discussion. 


3 thoughts on “The 48 Team Appeal: Looking at Both Sides

  1. I think the red light argument should be more like this- You saw me run through that red light 5 times before and didn't do anything. What makes this time different? True you shouldn't run red lights but the cop should be fired too. NASCAR$ looks stupid in this whole deal.

  2. LOL….Love it and you're right. The Officials are on the chopping block for not catching the violation in 2011. That is the biggest fail in this story. IMO, Middlebrook and HMS took control of NASCAR with the ruling today. Any future penalty to them can just be appealed an overturned.The only way for NASCAR to regain control of the rules is to change the Appeal process. Middlebrook absolutely needs to be removed from this position. The sooner the better imo. They need more than one person making the final decision. And they need to make sure the final decision makers are not connected to the parties involved in the appeal.

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