Gordon, JJ lose 100 points; crew chiefs suspended six races
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR made another statement on Tuesday that there is no tolerance when it comes to altering the Car of Tomorrow to enhance performance.
Points leader Jeff Gordon and defending Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson were docked 100 driver points and their crew chiefs -- Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus -- were fined $100,000 and suspended for the next six races for altering the right front fenders of their cars at Infineon Raceway.
Letarte and Knaus, who also are on probation through the end of the season, will not be allowed to return to the track until Aug. 15, in time for the Michigan race.
Also, team owner Rick Hendrick was fined 100 car owner championship points as has Gordon, who co-owns Johnson's car.
"We are disappointed in NASCAR's decision and feel the penalties are excessive," Hendrick said. "Right now, all of our options are being evaluated, including our personnel situation and a possible appeal to the National Stock Car Racing Commission.
Reordering The Leaders
The NASCAR Nextel Cup leaders underwent a shuffling of the first five following Tuesday's penalties issued to Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
New Top 5 Driver Pts Deficit Pvs Jeff Gordon 2,438 --- 1st Denny Hamlin 2,267 -271 2nd Matt Kenseth 2,105 -333 4th Jeff Burton 2,084 -354 5th Jimmie Johnson 2,072 -366 3rd
"We'll take some time to decide on a direction and make an announcement regarding our plans for New Hampshire later in the week."
It is the second major penalty handed out for a COT violation. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fined 100 points and his crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., received the same penalties as Letarte and Knaus for altering the rear wing mount at Darlington.
The violations against Gordon and Johnson were discovered on Friday during initial inspections. The cars were not allowed to practice or qualify, but were allowed to practice on Saturday and race on Sunday after starting from the back of the field.
Gordon finished seventh and Johnson 17th.
The penalties, which could be appealed, will not have a major impact on the drivers' positions in the standings. Gordon, who had a 271-point advantage over second-place Denny Hamlin after Infineon, remains comfortably in first. Johnson will fall from third to fifth, allowing Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton to move up a notch. But he remains solidly in championship battle with a 257-point advantage over 12th place Earnhardt.
The 12 each will be given the same number of points for the final 10 races with race winners given 10 points for each victory during the first 26 events.
That means Gordon and Johnson, who have four victories each, still would hold the top two spots barring a major collapse. Their closest competitors have one win with 10 races before the chase is set.
Gordon and Hendrick felt any penalties past being parked on Friday would be too severe, reminding the alterations were within a gray area that is not defined by the rulebook.
"I don't necessarily say they bent the rules," Hendrick said on Saturday at Infineon Raceway. "They thought they were working inside of an area they thought they could. The fenders on the car are sitting out there in front of God and everybody.
"If you're going to try to do something to gain an advantage you wouldn't do it and roll it through inspection."
Hendrick said the penalty doesn't "fit the crime in this case when you're talking about the top of a fender or the side of a fender."
"To me, what happened to us on Friday was huge," he said after the race. "The trickle effect through this entire garage area has everybody's eyes wide open going, 'Wow! I can't believe they're coming down this hard on this type of infraction.'"
J.D. Gibbs, the president of Joe Gibbs Racing, said this is just another sign that NASCAR won't tolerate cheating with the COT.
"What NASCAR clearly says is here is the golden surface of what it is," he said. "So as you go through a process here, people are going to find out, 'Hey, what does that mean?' And they are going to enforce it.
"We're going through a time here where we're just learning the Car of Tomorrow and what it looks like and how does it fit and what does the golden template mean."
This is the first infraction for Letarte. Knaus has had multiple infractions, including a four-race suspension at the start of last season.
David Newton covers motorsports for ESPN.com.
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