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Knaus suspended three more races, fined $25K

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR suspended crew chief Chad Knaus for three more races Tuesday and fined him $25,000 for making an illegal modification to Jimmie Johnson's car during preparation for the Daytona 500.

Knaus was ejected from Daytona following the cheating scandal, and Johnson went on to win the race in a legal car.

Now Johnson must compete in the next three events without his crew chief. Knaus won't be eligible to return to a race track until the March 26 race in Bristol, Tenn.

NASCAR, without comment, also placed Knaus on probation for the rest of the year. It means the crew chief won't be able to push the limits the way he's done for much of the past four seasons.

Knaus seemed unrepentant.

''I think if we ran 25th every week we wouldn't be getting this attention,'' he said in a conference call.

Knaus also deflected several questions that gave him the opportunity to take responsibility for an alteration NASCAR has characterized as ''blatant cheating.''

''There's a lot of things out there that can be called intentional,'' Knaus said. ''The fact of the matter is when NASCAR went back it didn't fit the templates. How that happens is pretty irrelevant.''

Johnson said he wasn't surprised by the length of his crew chief's suspension.

"We expected it could come down like this," Johnson told ESPN.com. "The suspension they handed down was in line with what they gave [Kevin Harvick crew chief Todd] Berrier when he did something like that [in 2005]."

Berrier was suspended four races when NASCAR found an illegal fuel cell in Harvick's car after qualifying Las Vegas.

Knaus has been fined numerous times for various infractions and was suspended two races last season when Johnson's car failed inspection following a victory in Las Vegas. Knaus appealed and the suspension was reduced to probation.

"There's no doubt that Chad has been aggressive and walks a fine line," Johnson said Tuesday. "He stepped over the line and he's living with the consequences right now."

Knaus' latest infraction came during time trials for the Daytona 500. The Chevrolet passed its initial inspection. But sometime before Johnson went out and posted the fifth-fastest time, the rear window of the car was altered to change its aerodynamics.

The car failed postrace inspection and Knaus was kicked out of Daytona the next day. Johnson's time was thrown out and the team had to rebuild the car to make it fit NASCAR's templates.

The car passed at least three more inspections before Sunday's main event, which Johnson went on to win in the biggest victory of his career. His Chevy also passed an intensive post-race inspection.

Still, rivals have questioned the legitimacy of the victory and spoiled what should be Johnson's crowning achievement.

Asked Tuesday if he perhaps would be better off with a new crew chief because Knaus' tendency to push the limit is reflecting on Johnson, the driver said it has yet to get to that point.

"We'll just have to take it as it comes," Johnson said. "He's brought a lot of success to this team and a lot of innovation to Hendrick Motorsports. We just need to walk on the right side of the line from here on out," he said.

Johnson said the team is already focused on this week's California race.

"You know, the track in Fontana is a really different track from Daytona," Johnson told ESPN.com. "We won't know how good we can be without [Knaus] until halfway through Friday when qualifying's over."

Knaus, meanwhile, has been humbled by the experience. He had to watch the team he built from the ground up win the 500 on television and has been unable to participate in any of the post-race parties and celebrations.

"If he was doing well I'd be concerned," Johnson said. "The fact that it's so hard on him, it's obvious where his heart is and how much he cares for this race team. Every time I talk to him, he says, 'Dude I'm so sorry.' Every time he answers the phone that's what he says."

Johnson will compete in the next three events with lead engineer Darian Grubb calling the shots. Grubb also filled in for Knaus at Daytona.

The Associated Press contributed to this report