Rick Hendrick Needs to Know When to Let Go of NASCAR Appeals Process

Christopher LeoneSenior Analyst IMarch 13, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 11:  Jimmie Johnson (L), driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, talks with team owner Rick Hendrick (C) and crew chief Chad Knaus (R) in Victory Lane after winning the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Gatorade Duel at Daytona International Speedway on February 11, 2010 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jason Smith/Getty Images

Perhaps it's time for Rick Hendrick to just let it go. After losing today's appeal to the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel, Hendrick will continue to pursue the overturning of NASCAR sanctions imposed against Jimmie Johnson's team on opening day of Daytona 500 inspection.

The infraction, unapproved C-posts that didn't fit NASCAR's template, cost Johnson's team 25 points, crew chief Chad Knaus $100,000 and Knaus and car chief Ron Malec six weeks of track appearances.

Today, a three-person appeals board decided that those penalties were just. Hendrick, unsatisfied with the decision, will take the issue to the board's chief appellate officer, once again deferring any adjustments to Johnson's team in the process.

Now, Hendrick's case, if entirely accurate, might suggest that NASCAR's handling of the car was a bit off. Hendrick claims that the C-posts, which were taken at Daytona before going through tech, had passed through NASCAR inspection 16 times previously (four times in each restrictor plate race last year) without fail.

The only problem is, proving something like that makes NASCAR look pretty bad. If Johnson, Knaus, and Hendrick ran unapproved pieces all year in 2011, it's pretty unlikely that they're going to get any sympathy from anyone.

Knaus, meanwhile, wouldn't be a likely recipient of any leniency from the board, no matter the significance of the infraction. He's frequently been suspended, particularly in Johnson's peak years. In both 2006 and 2007, the team's two first championship years, Knaus found himself suspended at one point or another.

In fact, his history of bending the rules (or cheating, if you'd like) started before he even joined Hendrick. In 2001, an unapproved window net on Stacy Compton's car drew NASCAR's ire for the first time, and Knaus has been "innovating" ever since.

That's not the kind of reputation that you want to have going into a visit with the head honcho of appeals.

Granted, under the highly unlikely scenario that the penalty is completely overturned, Johnson's road to the Chase becomes much easier. With minus-23 points coming out of Daytona, Johnson has successfully climbed back to 23rd in points through Las Vegas, but he would jump into a three-way tie for 13th if he gets the 25 points back.

Six weeks with Knaus and Malec at the track would be six less weeks of (likely) working with Lance McGrew, whose results as a crew chief with multiple Hendrick drivers have been so-so.

But the odds are stacked against them.

Without Knaus, Johnson will have to climb back into the top part of the points without the crew chief he's won most of his races with (remember, Knaus was suspended for the 2006 Daytona 500 win). He'll be in a situation he hasn't had to deal with since running Busch races in the early 2000s—working with an average crew chief.

We'll have an opportunity to see just how good of a driver Johnson is without his biggest aide.

Maybe that's why Hendrick is pursuing this so much. Maybe he doesn't have faith in his top team to fully climb out of the Daytona hole without Johnson and Knaus working together. It will be even tougher to climb out of it with Malec (who served as crew chief for the four races that Knaus missed in 2007) unavailable.

Maybe the season is as good as over if this fails.

Maybe Johnson will have to work so hard in the early part of the season just to get back into Chase contention that they'll have nothing left in the tank for the Chase itself.

Maybe going all the way makes a little more sense than we thought.