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NASCAR suspends, fines Knaus

Crew chief barred from pit 3 more weeks, hit with $25,000 fine

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Jimmie Johnson, right, talks to crew chief Chad Knaus last week during qualifying runs at Daytona 500. Knaus has been fined numerous times.

Jimmie Johnson, right, talks to crew chief Chad Knaus last week during qualifying runs at Daytona 500. Knaus has been fined numerous times.

Nigel Cook, Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR suspended crew chief Chad Knaus for three more races Tuesday and fined him $25,000 for making an illegal modification to Jimmie Johnson's car during preparation for the Daytona 500.

Knaus was ejected from Daytona following the cheating scandal, and Johnson went on to win the race in a legal car.

Now Johnson must compete in the next three events without his crew chief. Knaus won't be eligible to return to a race track until the March 26 race in Bristol, Tenn.

NASCAR, without comment, also placed Knaus on probation for the rest of the year. It means the crew chief won't be able to push the limits the way he has done for much of the past four seasons.

Knaus seemed unrepentant.

"I think if we ran 25th every week we wouldn't be getting this attention," he said in a conference call.

Knaus also deflected several questions that gave him the opportunity to take responsibility for an alteration NASCAR has characterized as "blatant cheating."

"There's a lot of things out there that can be called intentional," Knaus said. "The fact of the matter is when NASCAR went back it didn't fit the templates. How that happens is pretty irrelevant."

Knaus has been fined numerous times for infractions and was suspended two races last season when Johnson's car failed inspection following a victory in Las Vegas. Knaus appealed, and the suspension was reduced to probation.

"There's no doubt that Chad has been aggressive and walks a fine line," Johnson said. "He stepped over the line, and he's living with the consequences right now."

Knaus' latest infraction came during time trials for the Daytona 500. The Chevrolet passed its initial inspection. But sometime before Johnson went out and posted the fifth-fastest time, the rear window of the car was altered to change its aerodynamics.

The car failed inspection and Knaus was kicked out of Daytona. Johnson's time was tossed and the team had to rebuild the car to make it fit NASCAR's templates.

The car passed at least three more inspections before Sunday's main event, which Johnson went on to win in the biggest victory of his career. His Chevy also passed an intensive post-race inspection.

Still, rivals have questioned the legitimacy of the victory and spoiled what should be Johnson's crowning achievement.

Knaus defended Johnson's effort and said the driver was unaware of any problems the car might have had.

"Drivers don't know what' going in these race cars, ever," he said. "Jimmie isn't really into knowing what is going on with the race cars. He shows up and drives and gives his feedback and goes home."

Asked Tuesday if he perhaps would be better off with a new crew chief because Knaus' tendency to push the limit is reflecting on Johnson, the driver said it has yet to get to that point.

"That's something that has been brought up during this experience," he said. "Maybe Chad's been walking too close to the line and if you're walking a tight rope you're going to step off at some point, and this is what's happened.

"We'll just have to take it as it comes. He's brought a lot of success to this team and a lot of innovation to Hendrick Motorsports. We just need to walk on the right side of the line from here on out."

Knaus said he could abide by those rules.

"We're not going to go out there and pull punches," he said. "We are going to take the best product that we can to the race track, week in and week out, within the guidelines of NASCAR."

Johnson indicated that Knaus has been humbled by the experience that forced him to watch the team he built from the ground up win the 500 on television.

"If he was doing well I'd be concerned," Johnson said. "The fact that it's so hard on him, it's obvious where his heart is and how much he cares for this race team. Every time I talk to him, he says, 'Dude I'm so sorry.' Every time he answers the phone that's what he says."

Johnson will compete in the next three events with lead engineer Darian Grubb calling the shots. Grubb also filled in for Knaus at Daytona.