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Johnson crew chief ejected for illegal modifications

2/14/2006

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Jimmie Johnson's crew chief was thrown out of the Daytona 500 on Monday for illegal modifications made to Johnson's car during pole qualifying.

Chad Knaus was accused of raising the rear window on the No. 48 Chevrolet to alter aerodynamics during Johnson's run Sunday. The infraction was discovered in a post-qualifying inspection when the car failed to fit NASCAR templates.

NASCAR said Knaus cannot appeal the ejection.

NASCAR also said the Hendrick Motorsports team is subject to additional penalties, which would be announced after Sunday's Daytona 500.

Team owner Rick Hendrick said lead engineer Darian Grubb will replace Knaus as crew chief for Sunday's "Great American Race."

"It's obviously disappointing to miss the biggest race of the year, but I'm confident in Darian and the rest of my teammates," Knaus said in a statement.

Johnson finished fifth in pole qualifying, but he will have to start from the rear of the field during Thursday's 150-mile races that set the rest of the Daytona 500 lineup.

"We understand NASCAR's position," Hendrick said in a statement. "Our expectations for the team remain high. It's a deep, championship-caliber group and they'll step up this weekend."

Two-time NASCAR champion Terry Labonte also had his qualifying run disallowed Sunday, but the series said any penalties against that team would not be announced until next week.

NASCAR acted quickly against the 34-year-old Knaus, possibly because he has been penalized repeatedly for rules infractions.

Knaus was suspended two races and fined $35,000 last year because Johnson's race-winning car failed to meet the minimum height requirement during post-race inspection at Las Vegas. The team was also docked 25 championship points.

Knaus successfully appealed the suspension, getting it reduced to 90 days of probation, but the fine and points penalty were upheld.

He was also fined more than $30,000 over the 2002 and 2003 season for various violations, including one for cursing on live television.

The latest suspension might be applauded in some NASCAR garages. Several teams complained publicly last year that Knaus was receiving special treatment because his two-race suspension was overturned and he avoided trouble when NASCAR discovered modified shock absorbers on the No. 48 following a race at Dover International Speedway.

"There's a little bit of a double standard," driver Kevin Harvick, whose crew chief was suspended twice last season for a total of six races, said last week. "There's probably a reason why Chad Knaus maybe has been brown-nosing too much. I don't know. Maybe we need to brown-nose a little more."

Knaus is widely considered the best crew chief in the garage -- a title that can be both satisfying and stigmatizing.

He's driven, demanding, ultra-confident and creative.

A Ray Evernham protege, Knaus learned much of what he knows from working under Evernham as an original member of the "Rainbow Warriors," the crew that pushed Jeff Gordon to three of his NASCAR
championships.

Evernham's imprint can be found in much of what Knaus does -- to the point where he's often chided and referred to as "Little Ray" around the garage.

Evernham also was cited numerous times as a crew chief for violations, including the biggest fine in NASCAR history -- a $60,000 penalty in 1995 for using an unapproved suspension part on Gordon's car.