NASCAR's chief appellate officer John Middlebrook overturned the six-race suspension of five-time championship winning crew chief Chad Knaus on Tuesday. The ruling followed an appeal by Knaus's team owner Rick Hendrick of his preliminary appeal, which was rejected by NASCAR's appeal panel.
Middlebrook ruled that Knaus and car chief Ron Malec, who also was suspended six races, instead will be on probation through May 9. However, NASCAR officials underlined that there was still a rules violation, so the $100,000 fine levied on Knaus still stands.
"It's been a tough 30 days," Knaus told the Associated Press after the announcement. "It's not about vindication. It's time to move on."
Last week a three-member appeals committee had upheld the suspensions imposed by NASCAR after the car Knaus presented on the first day of practice for the Bud Shootout was found to be out of compliance. NASCAR officials confiscated C-pillars, the posts that connect the roof to the rear deck lid, in between the side and rear windows, and determined they had been illegally modified. They were removed from the vehicle, but the team was able to fly in replacement parts. NASCAR said the sheet metal between the roof and the side windows had been illegally modified.
Team owner Rick Hendrick said he was confident the team was "clearly within the rulebook."
"There was no ill intent on our part," Hendrick told the AP. "We felt by the rulebook we were approved. By the rulebook the car was legal."
Former Hendrick crew member Matt Clark, now a commentator for the SPEED network, expressed surprise at the outcome.
“I think the NASCAR world is shocked," he said. "Everyone expected a little bit of a reduction, etc – but not necessarily a total overturn in the suspensions and points. I think Middlebrook got this one right. I say that because the big argument had been, (the car was) pulled out of line before templates, its raced before, it's been documented and other teams were allowed to fix any issues. I think Hendrick made a strong case to Middlebrook. I think it bodes well for NASCAR and competitors that everything is not rubber-stamped.”
Middlebrook was appointed by NASCAR in 2010 as its final adjudicator of appeals, and has now reduced suspensions in all four appeals he's heard since being named to the post. He spent 49 years at General Motors before retiring in 2008 from his position as vp for global sales. Middlebrook was also involved in GM's NASCAR programs and drove the pace car during the pace laps for Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis in 2008.