NASCAR is set to keep a close eye on Jimmie Johnson's cars for the remainder of the season, following reports that crew chief Chad Knaus asked his driver to damage his car intentionally after finishing last weekend's race at Talladega.
Earlier this week, SBNation.com published a report that reveals a conversation held between Knaus and Johnson moments before the start, where Johnson was instructed to "crack" the rear of his car if he won the race. The audio was obtained by a fan from the live feed of Johnson's in-car camera, which was available to users of an application on NASCAR.com last Sunday.
"If we win this race, you have to crack the back of the car, got it?" Knaus can be heard telling Knaus on the recording. "Really?" replies Johnson. "Yes," Knaus responds. "Got it? You don't have to have to hit it hard, you don't have to destroy it. But you've got to do a donut and you've got to hit the back end, or somebody's got to hit you in the [rear]-end or something. OK?"
Knaus explained to SBNation.com that his instruction to Johnson was a precaution; a battered rear-end would likely go through post-race inspection without issues, having an explanation for not meeting tolerances if that was the case.
During the weekend at Talladega the cars of Martin Truex Jr., David Reutimann and Bobby Labonte were found to have windshields that did not meet specification, the infractions resulting in fines, suspensions, and other penalties being imposed to the three teams. On Friday at Martinsville, Johnson said his crew chief's words before the start at Talladega were "foolish," but he underlined that his car went clear through inspection a number of times during the weekend prior to the race.
"At the end of the day, while Chad was trying to protect himself post-race, he made a foolish statement," said Johnson. "That is truly it. At the end of the day, that car passed inspection multiple times at an impound race and was pushed out onto the grid. It was certainly something that we did not want to take place.
"You can tell from my reaction [to Knaus' instruction] it was something I had never heard in the car from him before, and it is what it is. The car passed [technical inspection] at the racetrack multiple times and people have to build faith in that; Chad and I certainly respect NASCAR and their inspection process and unfortunately it happened for really no reason at all and now we have to put it behind us."
NASCAR officials met with Johnson and Knaus on Friday at Martinsville to discuss the issue, wit officials warning that their cars will likely be inspected in detail at their R&D facility for the remainder of the season.
"We had the opportunity to visit with Chad and Jimmie this morning in Martinsville," said NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp on Friday. "As the sport's governing body we were doing our due diligence to look into this and gain some insight into the comments Chad made before the race at Talladega.
"We have a responsibility to the rest of the garage area to ensure that everyone is competing on a level playing field with the inspection processes we have in place. The No. 48 organization [Johnson's team] knows that from this occurrence that their car is likely to be a regular customer at the R&D center for post race inspection for the balance of this season."
Johnson currently runs seventh in the Chase standings, trailing leader Carl Edwards by 50 points, his biggest deficit ever six races into the playoff series.