Hendrick decides against appealing 'excessive' NASCAR penalties

Jeff Gordon


Jimmie Johnson


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- 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.