Greg Biffle, Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne battle three-wide at Michigan International Speedway. Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR
*Update at bottom
During the Pure Michigan 400 race, Brad Keselowski and his No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge was battling with the No. 48 Chevy of Jimmie Johnson, and then, with only six laps to go, the No. 48 blew its engine. Caution comes out and Greg Biffle retains the lead on the green-white-checkered restart. Biffle ends up winning the race, as well as retain the points lead, with Keselowski trailing behind, finishing in 2nd place.
At this point, Keselowski is not a happy driver. During a post race interview with Sporting News, Brad Keselowski stated he couldn’t catch the No. 48 Chevy because of “Penske Racing’s refusal to bend the rules.”
Keselowski, being purely speculative, stated that Hendrick’s have done “tricks” with their cars. “Hendrick Motorsports cars appear to have different rear suspension setups than other cars, especially at intermediate tracks such as Michigan, Indianapolis and Pocono. “There’s parts and pieces on the car that are moving after inspection that makes the cars more competitive,” Keselowski said after the race.
Ok. That’s HIS thought. However, these questions went rushing through my mind: Race parts being moved, even after inspection? But what about post race inspection? Is it truly nonsense, an angry driver just saying things letting off steam? Or could there be a little truth to what Keselowski is claiming? Or are some of the NASCAR officials looking the other way just because its Hendrick Motorsports?
Well, needless to say, Keselowski’s statement sent me on a mad search for facts.
It’s no surprise to race fans that the No. 48 team, however mainly Chad Knaus, has quite a history with failing inspections – or in other words – getting busted for trying to get that lead advantage over other teams. Just as there have been many other teams being penalized for infractions pre- and post-race, (keep reading!) I think Knaus holds the most. Just to back-up my statements, here’s a list of some suspensions, fines and penalties I pulled off the NASCAR Media site for Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports:
Daytona International Speedway 2/29/2012 – Race equipment does not conform to NASCAR rules; part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance will not be permitted – unapproved car body modifications (illegal C Posts). Crew chief Chad Knaus & car chief Ron Malec have been suspended from the next six (6) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship events, suspended from NASCAR until April 18 and placed on NASCAR probation until May 9. Knaus has been fined $100,000. Driver Jimmie Johnson and car owner Jeff Gordon have been penalized with the loss of 25 driver and 25 owner points.
Hendrick Appeal(s) 3/13/2012 – Chief Appellate Officer heard and considered the appeal (twice) of the penalties resulting from the #48 Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team. The first attempt, everything was upheld stemming from the infractions. Another hearing was heard, where the fine was upheld, but the points were reinstated to the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.
Infineon Raceway 6/26/2007 – In violation of Sections 12-4-A (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4-Q (car, car parts, components and/or equipment used do not conform to NASCAR rules); 20-2.1E (parts or components of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that have been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance will not be permitted); and 20-2H (fenders may not be cut or altered except for wheel or tire clearance which must be approved by the Series Director) of the 2007 NASCAR rule book. The violations were found during the initial inspection process. Penalized 100 driver championship points, fined $100,000, suspended for the next six NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series events until Aug. 15, 2007 and placed on probation until Dec. 31, 2007. This happened to BOTH the No. 48 & No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team with the exact same infractions, suspensions and fines.
Daytona International Speedway 2/2006 – Chad Knaus fined $25,000, suspended until 3/22/2006 for unapproved template modification to the rear window area.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway 3/2005 – No. 48 Chevrolet team received THREE penalties: roof height being too low, car, car parts, components, and/or equipment used that do not conform to NASCAR rules. Chad Knaus suspended from competition for the next two races and fined $35,000. Jeff Gordon, No. 48 car owner, has been penalized 25 owner points.
Daytona International Speedway 7/10/2002 – Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, was fined $25,000 and his team was also penalized 25 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship driver points as well as 25 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship owner points. Knaus’ NASCAR Winston Cup team was penalized under Section 12-4-A of the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series rule book: “Actions detrimental to stock car racing: offset mounting bolts for the front of the truck trailing arms.”
Seems to me after my research, Knaus feels that the No. 48 Chevy needed that little extra help mainly on Superspeedways (a racetrack that is greater than 2 miles in length), not intermediate tracks (oval that is greater than 1 mile in length, but less than 2 miles in length.) What does Jimmie think? I wonder if he thinks his crew chief doesn’t believe he can pull it off as a driver, as a team? Hummm…
Then there’s Rick Hendrick’s history as a businessman (early on):
The biggest piece of a (bad) history maker for Rick Hendrick was for the lack of trust and bad judgement on his part in the American Honda Motor Company scandal. Early in the 1980′s, the scandal came about due to the fact that Honda vehicles had a very high demand during that time. Dealers could sell the cars for thousands of dollars above the sticker price. Executives at Honda took advantage of the high demand by soliciting bribes from dealers. Dealers were granted new dealerships and increased shipments of cars.
It all came down to money.
Unfortunately, Rick Hendrick was a willing participant to gain better inventory for his Honda dealership. He pleaded guilty to mail fraud. Hendrick then admitted giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, BMWs and even houses to Honda executives in exchange for a lower sentence. These crimes could have put Hendrick in prison for years.
In 1997, Hendrick was sentenced to one year of house arrest (instead of prison, due to his diagnoses with chronic myelogenous leukemia within two days prior to sentencing), three years probation, and a $250,000 fine.
Word was whirling around that Hendrick built his car dealership empire through bribery and scandal. Hendrick had faced well over 50 lawsuits during this period from competitors who are accusing him of unfair competition.
Humm… unfair competition…
It was during this time he underwent treatment for leukemia; Meanwhile, he has been in full remission since December 1999. Hendrick also began the Hendrick Marrow Program, a non-profit which works with the ‘Be The Match Foundation’ to support the National Marrow Donor Program.
In December 2000, Hendrick received a full pardon from, then exiting, President Bill Clinton.
So maybe, just maybe, Brad K. might be onto something according to the past history of Chad Knaus as well as Rick Hendrick. We all wonder about the possibilities of teams “cheating” trying to gain the upper hand. But don’t forget about that “grey area” where they are within the allowable tolerance according to NASCAR. There are teams that are willing to go that extra 1/4 or 1/8th inch, yet there are teams that will totally stay away from it and not chance the risk of a fine or being penalized. Apparently, Penske Racing has a hard rule of not going near that “grey area.” Keselowski added, “as a group at Penske Racing, we have not felt comfortable enough to risk that name and reputation that Roger has over those parts and pieces. Others have, which is their prerogative.”
It’s all about the name for Roger Penske.
But is that “grey area” considered cheating? Apparently not. The most that would happen is NASCAR would “warn” the team that are too close to becoming “illegal.” A majority of these teams try it because sometimes the rules are way too vague.
I consider “cheating” to be someone or a team who intentionally tries to get away with unapproved adjustments, car components, weights, etc.
CHEATING: (verb) to violate rules or regulations; to practice fraud or deceit; to defraud; to elude; (noun) a person who acts dishonestly, the fraudulent obtaining of another person’s property by a pretense or trick.
NASCAR sees that if a team builds/works/adjusts a car according to the rule book, it’s legal. If anything outside the perimeter and not in the rule book, it’s unapproved, therefore illegal.
Even as I write this article, I received an email from NASCAR stating that No. 18 team of Kyle Busch for Joe Gibbs Racing, was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4J (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules); and 20-2.3A (improperly attached weight) of the 2012 NASCAR rule book. The infraction occurred during practice on Aug. 18.
As a result of the violation, crew chief Dave Rogers has been fined $25,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until Oct. 3. In addition, car chief Wesley Sherrill has been placed on NASCAR probation until Oct. 3.
But just because a team or a crew chief has come up with “something” that NASCAR hasn’t and is NOT in the NASCAR rule book, does that make it illegal? I know…confusing, right? Was the JGR a case of going into that “grey area?” Did they take the risk?
As some might say, Knaus takes those risks and “tries” to retain his team as the top team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series…
…until that dreadful October 2011 race day at Talladega Superspeedway when everyone’s heart jumped into their throats when Knaus’ comment was broadcasted LIVE on NASCAR.com’s RaceBuddy application from Johnson’s in-car camera. Everyone watching the feed broadcasted at the time saw and heard it… remember that?
“If we win this race, you have to crack the back of the car,” Knaus could be heard telling Johnson on the recording.
“Really?” Johnson replied, sounding surprised.
“Yes,” Knaus said. “Got it? You don’t have to have to hit it hard, you don’t have to destroy it. But you’ve gotta do a donut and you’ve gotta hit the back end, or somebody’s gotta hit you in the ass-end or something. OK?”
THAT, to me, WAS and IS cheating on Knaus’ part while Johnson was totally at a lost about it. So my question was, and still is, why wasn’t anything caught during pre-race inspection?
Knaus later explained that the instructions weren’t meant to cover up an intentional violation of the rules but to account for the constant pushing and bump-drafting at Talladega that could knock the car out of tolerance. After that incident, NASCAR stated, “The 48 organization knows that from this occurrence that their car is likely to be a regular customer at the R&D Center for post race inspection the balance of this season (2011).”
This was also the season that broke the 5X-Champion’s run for their sixth Sprint Cup Championship for the No. 48 Hendrick team. What a coincidence – almost to a point of being down right eerie.
All three NASCAR series will head to Thunder Valley at Bristol Motor Speedway. In addition to his duties driving in both the NASCAR Cup Series and the Nationwide Series, Keselowski will pilot his own No. 29 Ram in Wednesday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) race at BMS. This is his sixth, and final, NCWTS start of 2012.
Sources: NASCAR Media, Google, Hendrick Automotive Group, Sporting News
*UPDATE: 8/24 NASCAR’s response to what Brad K. was claiming:
NASCAR officials said mechanical devices the Hendrick Motorsports teams and other organizations in the Sprint Cup Series are using to gain a competitive advantage in the rear housing are legal — today. “We watch it weekly because it has ramped up the last couple of months,” series director John Darby said on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. “If it stays pretty level we’ll probably leave it alone the rest of the year. “If there is a higher extreme somebody takes it to that could create issues we don’t want to see, then we’ll react to that.”
The HMS cars in May were the first this season to develop devices that allow the rear axle to turn slightly to follow the front, creating more speed particularly in the corners. “Where we’re at today, right now, there is no illegal procedures going on,” Darby said. “Obviously, there was one we found Tuesday that was questionable. But the mechanical devices, the way they’re using them, there’s a clear understanding of what the teams are doing.” Darby said teams are using different methods to create a “hook and ladder fire truck effect that allows the rear axle to turn so the rear of the car follows the front.” He said there’s nothing in the current rulebook that doesn’t allow that, but he didn’t rule out that changing in 2013. “It’s just a direct everybody has gone to maximize, optimize,” Darby said. “Right now it’s pretty level throughout the garage. If you take the most extreme to the least developed, it’s not a huge difference.’ – SOURCE: ESPN