Chad Knaus is hoping it will feel a little like 2005 again.
That season might have been before Knaus and Jimmie Johnson began their run of five consecutive championships on NASCAR's premier series, but it was when the crew chief of the No. 48 car scored a victory of another kind -- he won the appeal of a penalty levied against him for the roof of his vehicle being too low at Las Vegas. What had been a two-week penalty and a $25,000 fine were reversed by the sport's appeals committee.
Knaus goes before the appeal board again Tuesday because of a more serious infraction -- illegally modified C-pillars that were confiscated from his race car in initial inspection for the Daytona 500. On March 1, NASCAR fined Knaus $100,000 for the violation, and suspended him and car chief Ron Malec for six Sprint Cup events. Johnson was also docked 25 championship points. Knaus and Malec have worked the past two weeks pending the appeal, although the points deduction went into effect immediately.
The appeal will be held at NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. It will be heard by three members pulled from the 44-person National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel, an independent board comprised of several track operators, industry leaders, and former competitors. The appeal board has the power to uphold, reduce, or even increase the penalties. Robby Gordon experienced a little of both in 2008, when he had a 100-point penalty for an unapproved front bumper at Daytona overturned on appeal, but his $100,000 fine was increased to $150,000.
It's not unheard of for the panel to modify a NASCAR penalty. Between the years 2000 and 2008 there were 102 appeal hearings, and the original penalty was upheld in 68 cases. Twenty-four times the penalty was reduced or amended, and eight times it was overturned completely. One more penalty was overturned by the chief appellate officer, currently former General Motors executive John Middlebrook, to whom aggrieved parties can make a final plea should their original appeal be upheld.
Johnson said this past weekend at Las Vegas that his team would take the appeal process to the very end if necessary.
"We're prepared and ready, and it's outside of my realm of knowledge," he said. "It's through upper management at Hendrick -- Rick [Hendrick] himself personally and Chad. I'll be waiting eagerly Tuesday to hear what happens, and I know that there's one step after this appeal process if things don't turn out favorable for us. We're ready to go to the next level, too, because the strength we have in our case and our opinion of the situation. Tuesday, we'll all know a lot more."
Knaus said the car in question ran all four restrictor-plate races in 2011, and had previously been through inspection with the same C-pillars -- the posts that run from the roof to the rear deck lid, separating the side and rear windows -- attached. Should the appeal be unsuccessful, he and Malec face the prospect of being sidelined until the Sprint Cup event at Talladega in May.
"We are very fortunate to have this ability to go through the appeal process," Knaus said recently. "That is something NASCAR put in place a long time ago. I'm glad that they do. It's unfortunate that teams have to take advantage of the appeal process from time to time, but it is good that it is there. We have seen some things changed, reversed, minimized and some maximized at different times. Hopefully, we will get it going in our favor."