Jimmie Johnson's car deemed modified

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Crew chief Chad Knaus and other members of five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson's Daytona 500 team face possible suspensions after NASCAR said it found modifications on the rear quarter panel of Johnson's No. 48 car.

The C-posts -- pillars that come down from the roof to the quarter panel -- were confiscated by NASCAR on Friday after going through an initial inspection for the 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR officials said the violation first was discovered prior to the car going through initial inspection, noting the C-posts stood out so much it was evident to the naked eye.

Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said the changes were a major violation of NASCAR's policy banning alterations to the series' template.

"Suspensions are not out of the realm of possibility," Darby said.

But Darby also said that it's unlikely team members will be banned from the race, because the apparent violation was found so early.

"The team will be allowed to fix the car,'' Darby said.

Darby said penalties could come as early as next week, but NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp said sanctions are unlikely until after the February 26 race.

"They found some things they didn't like and they asked us to remove them,'' Knaus said Friday. "We'll get the car fixed up and ready to qualify.''

Asked if he knew there was a chance the car was out of compliance before arriving at Daytona, Knaus said, "I haven't had a chance to take a good look at it yet. I know they just asked us to remove the parts, so we did. We've got to dig into it. It's been a hectic day.''

Ken Howes, Hendrick Motorsports' vice president for competition, said he expects the rebuilt car will be ready for practice on Saturday and qualifying on Sunday.

"A helluva way to start the 2012 season,'' he said.

This is not the first time Knaus and the No. 48 team have faced sanctions before the "Great American Race.'' In 2006, Knaus was suspended for four races and fined $25,000 when NASCAR discovered a device that pushed the rear window out more than three-quarters of an inch to create a competitive advantage.

Knaus sat out the 500 and Johnson won with Darian Grubb as his interim crew chief.

Asked if this was an intentional attempt by the No. 48 team to bend the rules, Howes said, "That's a difficult way to put it. You work within the templates the best way you think. Obviously, you're trying to do a better job than the next guy.''

"NASCAR said it wasn't right, so it's not right,'' Howes added. "We don't have an argument with that.''

Howes said manipulating the C-post creates an aerodynamic advantage, and that individual teams are allowed to work in that area. The other three Hendrick Motorsports cars did not fail inspection.

"It's an area you will go as far as you can, because it will affect the performance of the car,'' Howes said. "That's the nature of this kind of racing, especially at Daytona. That's an area teams will work. Obviously, the 48 team went too far.''

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.