Jimmie Johnson’s team wins appeal but still seeking clarification on NASCAR warnings

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CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 team won its appeal Tuesday to overturn a P1 penalty, but crew chief Chad Knaus still awaits more clarity on its exposure to future punishment.

NASCAR issued the penalty of last choice in pit stalls for the next race after the team received written warnings in consecutive Sprint Cup events (the All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway). The punishment was deferred for Tuesday’s appeal hearing at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Written warnings are cumulative over the course of a season, and if a team receives six over a six-month period following the first, it could result in a P2 penalty. Per the 2015 NASCAR rulebook, a P2 penalty would result in at least one (and possibly more) of the following: loss of 10 championship driver and owner points; $10,000-$25,000 fine; suspension for the crew chief,and/or any other team members for at least one race; probation through the end of the calendar year for the crew chief.

Johnson’s team has received three warnings this season and could face another after failing prerace inspection three times Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

At a news conference with a small group of news reporters shortly after the result was announced, Knaus said Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal was as much about understanding the new system, which was introduced last year, as contesting the penalty.

“If you look at the way warning schedule is, and the way the penalties can start to accumulate over a period of time, we needed to understand the methodology behind that, and we have a better understanding of that now,” he said. “I think that with all the teams and NASCAR, we’re all going to have some more conversations in the future about how the warnings are applied and can be contested.

“That was the big reason we’re here. We need to get in here and understand the format, the system and thankfully, we have a system like this. I think it’s great that NASCAR is willing to have an open forum to where we can get together, chat and have a face to face conversation about it and try to get some clarification.”

Knaus, who attended the appeal hearing with team owner Rick Hendrick and car chief Ron Malec, said the team was unsure if there would be a reduction in warnings.

“That’s the reason we’re here, to understand the format and how all that stuff is going to play out,” Knaus said. “As of right now we’re waiting to get clarification on the warnings from the hearing. So we know the penalty is gone. We’ll know more probably around the same time you guys do.”

According to the rulebook, NASCAR can issue written warnings instead of penalties “for certain types of very minor, first-time infractions.”

The tricky part of the new system is a warning isn’t appealable, but a punishment resulting from a warning is. NASCAR, at its discretion, can issue P1 penalties based on multiple warnings or warnings in consecutive events.

P1 penalties can include one or more of the following: Last choice in pit selection; reductions in track time during practice; reduction in track time during qualifying; delay in order of inspection; selected for postrace inspection; delay in unloading the car at the beginning of an event weekend; temporary suspension of annual hard card credentials; reduction or suspension of event privileges (such as parking passes); community service.

“We talked about the warnings,” Knaus said. “We all understand there needs to be discussion about that moving forward. We came in here to talk about that and try to get the penalty stricken. The penalty’s been dissolved. That’s a good thing from our standpoint. Then the rest of it, we’re waiting to hear back from NASCAR.”

Knaus said the team contested the reasons for both of its warnings. The first at the Sprint All-Star Race was for repairs that apparently caused an illegal modification to the No. 48 Chevy’s side skirt. The second was for needing too many attempts at prequalifying inspection for the Coca-Cola 600.

The appeals panel of Richard Gore, David Hall and Jay Signore ruled there was a “preponderance of evidence presented that the side skirt violation … did occur. There was conflicting evidence about the inspection violation which led to the second warning instead of preponderance.”

Did Knaus want to share the details of how the team made its case?

“No, not really,” he said, smiling broadly.

NASCAR, which must accept the panel’s decision as final, didn’t make a representative immediately available to address the appeal.