Saturday, February 18, 2012

#48 team’s rule infraction par for the course at Speedweeks

The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season was less than 24 hours old and NASCAR officials already had a controversy on their hands.

Jimmie Johnson and his #48 Hendrick Motorsports team showed up at Daytona International Speedway with pieces of the car that didn’t quite fit with NASCAR regulations.

The Lowe’s Chevrolet had a “C post” on the car that NASCAR deemed to be outside of the rules, and it would’ve given the car an aerodynamic advantage.

The C post is the piece of metal that runs across the top of the passenger window down to the trunk lid. NASCAR said the C post on Johnson’s car was rounded too much.

The team had to change the C posts on the car and NASCAR will likely announce any penalties in the days following the Daytona 500.

However, this type of issue should not be a shocking development during Speedweeks.

Sure, this gives fans who don’t like Johnson, Knaus or the entire #48 team another chance to shout from the mountaintops that the team is full of cheaters. However, plenty of seasons start with some sort of controversy.

The #48 team had a similar situation happen in 2006, and NASCAR sent crew chief Chad Knaus home for the rest of Speedweeks. It didn't matter, though. Johnson still went on to win the Daytona 500.

Michael Waltrip Racing also got busted for having rocket fuel in its cars during the team’s first Speedweeks in 2007.

More often than not, one story quickly dominates headlines during Speedweeks, and Johnson’s issue is just this year’s version.

While it’s nice to say anyone who works on the edges of the rule book should have it thrown at them when they go too far, but pushing the envelope is a crew chief’s job.

Some of the best crew chiefs in the history in the sport occasionally go too far in their innovations.

For example, Ray Evernham built a car for Jeff Gordon in the 1997 Winston all-star race that absolutely dominated the event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The car didn’t officially break any rules, but NASCAR told Evernham he couldn’t run that car again.

Does that mean Evernham cheated for that race? No, he was just the most innovative, and best, crew chief of his time.

Chad Knaus is the same way. NASCAR and team officials said the #48 car likely would’ve passed inspection and fit the templates. The problem was the areas between the template points that NASCAR said was the problem.

Generally, these types of issues happen during Speedweeks because teams have an entire offseason to optimize their Daytona 500 car.

A new season is also the first time teams work with the current year’s rules and car models. Even though NASCAR mandates nearly every part of a car these days, there is always going to be a breaking in period at the beginning of the season.

If something like the #48 team’s issue comes up in a few weeks there might be a more severe reaction, but Speedweeks is similar to the first round of golf for a year. The teams have to work out some the kinks.

However, these issues give people plenty to talk about during Speedweeks, and they usually set the stage for quite an interesting year.

If the first day was any indication, there will be plenty of topics to debate throughout this season.

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