Authors: By JENNA FRYER
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Five-time championship winning crew chief Chad Knaus has a decent shot of having his penalties reduced when he appears before NASCAR's chief appellate officer.
A three-member appeals committee on Tuesday upheld the six-race suspension and $100,000 fine NASCAR levied against Knaus after the car he presented on opening day of the Daytona 500 failed inspection. NASCAR said the sheet metal between the roof and the side windows had been illegally modified on Jimmie Johnson's car.
The penalties stretched to Johnson, who was docked 25 points, and car chief Ron Malec, who was also suspended six races.
Team owner Rick Hendrick said after the hearing the organization would appeal the penalties to the last level, chief appellate officer John Middlebrook.
"We feel strongly about this issue and will continue to pursue it at the next level," Hendrick said.
Knaus can work this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway while awaiting his hearing before Middlebrook. Since taking over the job as NASCAR's final arbitrator at the start of the 2010 season, Middlebrook has reduced the penalties in some form in all three of the appeals he's heard.
Middlebrook has not rescinded an entire penalty in the three hearings:
- In 2010, Middlebrook ruled on the championship-crippling penalty against Clint Bowyer and Richard Childress Racing. He upheld the loss of 150 points for Bowyer, but reduced the suspensions of the crew chief and car chief from six weeks to four weeks. He also reduced crew chief Shane Wilson's fine from $150,000 to $100,000.
- That same season, Middlebrook reduced a $5,000 fine against Nationwide Series owner Johnny Davis to $2,500.
- Earlier this year, Middlebrook reinstated effective March 1 part-time Nationwide Series driver Peyton Sellers, who had been suspended indefinitely from all competition for an altercation with a NASCAR official at a short-track race.
Middlebrook retired in 2008 after 49 years with General Motors, and is paid $1 a year by NASCAR to be the chief appellate officer. Hendrick, a longtime Chevrolet dealer and partner in NASCAR, was one of six people who spoke at Middlebrook's retirement dinner and vouched for the executive in 2010 before the Childress appeal.
"There's just no agenda with him. He's beyond being swayed," Hendrick said in 2010.
Childress also praised Middlebrook after the 2010 hearing, and it was a marked difference from the week earlier, when he furiously criticized the initial NASCAR appeals process.
"I feel we received a fair hearing," Childress said. "The final step in the appeals process is very good and I can assure you we would not have taken our case to the chief appellate officer if the first step in the process had been as fair."
Hendrick Motorsports is likely hoping for a reduction in the number of races Knaus must sit out.
The crew chief has served three previous suspensions, while a two-race suspension in 2005 was reduced to probation on appeal. His last suspension was six races in 2007 for an infraction found at Sonoma.
But Hendrick likely dreads any missed time for Knaus atop the pit box of the No. 48 team. Although Johnson finished a career-worst sixth in last season's points, he's won five championships and 55 races.
An accident on the second lap of the Daytona 500 led to a 42nd-place finish to start the season, and the points deduction following the penalty sent Johnson into Week 2 ranked 43rd in the standings. Knaus then guided Johnson to a fourth-place finish at Phoenix, and a second-place finish in Las Vegas, and he's now 23rd in the Sprint Cup standings.