Jimmie Johnson is hopeful of a positive outcome of the final appeal process against the penalties levied to his team following the Daytona 500.
The five-time Sprint Cup champion could be on the verge of losing a key part of his crew for a number of races, plus a hefty amount of championship points, when his team faces National Stock Car Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook next week.
Last Tuesday Hendrick Motorsports lost its first appeal against the penalties imposed, the National Stock Car Appeal Panel upholding a six-week suspension for crew chief Chad Knaus and car Chief Ron Malec, a $100,000 fine for Knaus, and a 25-point deduction in the drivers and owners standing.
Speaking on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Johnson seemed confident of the final instance turning favorable for the team's hopes. He said the team is not planning yet on who will replace Knaus and Malec in case their suspensions are ratified or even reduced, as they remain focused on getting the job done on the track.
"To be honest with you, we haven't worked on the back-up plan," said Johnson. "We've had a lot of faith with what took place and felt like last Tuesday things would be overturned. We were shocked with the penalties to start in the beginning. We haven't made any changes. We do have depth in our organization.
"We feel like if this next appeal, things don't change, we are not overly concerned because of the depth we have, but still we know how important this sport is along the lines of chemistry. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and I have a great chemistry. Ron Malec (car chief) for that matter, the way Ron runs the team."
Johnson believes that if the final appeal is not successful he could face an uphill struggle in trying to overcome an already poor start to his campaign, following a crash on the second lap of the Daytona 500. The Californian currently lies 23rd in the driver standing after three races, counting the 25-point deduction issued by NASCAR.
"If things stand it will be a huge blow to the team," said Johnson. "I feel like we can work through it and still have a chance to win, but it would be very difficult.
"Then you look at the points that are lost. 25 points is a big number. It puts a premium back on winning and then you don't have your crew chief and car chief, so winning is going to be that much more difficult. It's a double-edge sword. It's not an easy deal to go through that is why we are fighting these appeals like we are."
Middlebrook's past few hearings have seen changes in penalties imposed to competitors, including a two-week reduction to a suspension to Richard Childress Racing crew chief Shane Wilson in 2010, plus a further reduction in a fine for rules violations found on Clint Bowyer's ca in the Chase opener.
Nationwide Series team owner John Davis also had a fine reduced by half by the Chief Appellate Officer, while second-tier series driver Peyton Sellers got reinstated following an initial indefinite suspension by NASCAR. The final appeal for Hendrick Motorsports' No. 48 team will be heard next Tuesday.