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Jimmie Johnson’s Task Is To Make Up Lost Ground And It Can Be Done

Crew chief Chad Knaus (left) has helped Jimmie Johnson win five consecutive NASCAR championships. But that he has been caught - again - for infractions lead some to wonder if Johnson has indeed won all his titles legally.

For Jimmie Johnson to make up lost ground, and at times a lot of it, to win a Sprint Cup championship is something he’s done before.

Understand, he doesn’t like to do it that way – who would? – but it was required that he be equal to the task. He was.

Suffice it to say it’s required now. Johnson finished 42nd in the Daytona 500 after he became involved in a crash on only the second lap.

Points-wise, he was at the bottom of the pile. But after NASCAR slammed him and his Hendrick Motorsports team with massive penalties just a couple days after the race, the bottom of the pile turned into quicksand.

On Feb.17, Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet failed a pre-Daytona inspection when officials discovered the C-posts and the contour between the rear and side windows had been compromised.

NASCAR confiscated the car’s errant part and the Johnson team had to make all proper adjustments – which required imported material from its Charlotte headquarters – before it could get on the track.

On Feb.29 the sanctioning body announced that because of the infraction crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec would be suspended for the next six races and on probation until May 9. Knaus was fined $100,000.

Johnson was penalized with the loss of 25 driver points. Which means he’s gone from 37th in the standings with two points to oblivion with minus 23.

A hard hit? Let’s put it this way: Johnson now ranks somewhere beyond 50th place. Drivers with no points whatsoever are listed 39th-49th.

The driver from El Cajon, Calif., and his team have their work cut out for them, obviously.

The man at the forefront of all this is Knaus. Admittedly, he is an innovative crew chief and none of us can blame him specifically for any wrongdoing. After all, we don’t have the faintest idea what goes on behind the doors at Hendrick or who is involved.

However, when there are indiscretions, it’s the crew chief that takes the rap. And in Knaus’ case he’s taken the rap so often he’s now gained the rep.

He’s been suspended four times previously. He did, however, have a two-event ouster in 2005 overturned in an appeals process.

Given that Hendrick has appealed the Daytona ruling, Knaus may walk again.

In 2007 he was kicked out for six weeks when it was discovered the front bumpers of Johnson’s car had been altered for a road course race at Infineon Raceway in

Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet has been one of the most dominant cars in NASCAR over recent years. For Johnson to drive it to another title is, at this point, going to take a lot of work.

Calif.

With this latest episode Knaus had gained even more notoriety, for reasons he may not approve.

Many suggest, make that outright claim, that Knaus is the biggest cheater in NASCAR. They know that Johnson won championships after his crew chief was caught for misdeeds.

They wonder if he won ANY of them without Knaus’ shenanigans.

I don’t know. But I have always expressed the opinion that nearly every car at every race is seldom 100 percent as pure as snow on a convent roof.

Granted teams might fudge a little bit here and there, but blatant cheating has become, for the most part, non-existent.

That’s because NASCAR’s car preparation requirements have become so precise that the “gray area” in which teams can be creative is tiny.

They are expected to push the envelope, of course. And they do. Sometimes they get away with things relatively trivial. It’s now obvious that messing around with the C-posts isn’t one of them.

That Knaus has been nabbed so many times – and perhaps escaped more often – might lead some of us to believe that he strives for a reputation as the man who is NASCAR’s most notable rogue.

He constantly tweaks the nose of authority, something like Robin Hood or Zorro, if you will.

I don’t know if anything such as that has ever crossed Knaus’ mind.

But I do know that if, in fact, he aims to become recognized as NASCAR’s greatest “innovator,” he’s not going to come close.

Smokey Yunick, Junior Johnson, Hoss Ellington, Bud Moore, Gary Nelson – just to name a few – are, and will be, far more notorious than Knaus can hope to be.

Sure, they got caught, but certainly not nearly as regularly as Knaus over recent years.

That’s most likely because they operated in a bygone era.

There was a time when NASCAR inspections were laughable when compared to today.

One reason: The inspection team was comprised of mostly part-time weekend help. They were few in number – at times less than 20 – and did not have the technological wherewithal to match teams’ ingenuity.

Moore once said he could make 10 “alterations” to his cars and know that if NASCAR caught as many as seven of them – which he added was seldom – heck, he was still at least three to the good.

I don’t think that could be said today.

Inspectors now do not form a team. They have become an army created by NASCAR and recognized as extremely vital rather than subordinate.

Also, the equipment and techniques used in the inspection process today are more numerous, thorough and precise than at any other time.

It is far more difficult for teams to attempt any chicanery.

Among other things, there is, in my opinion, one very solid reason for this.

The car we now see on the track is what NASCAR created, which was not the case in years past.

It’s only logical that the sanctioning body protects it. It’s one reason why it has made it so difficult for teams to apply any sort of creatively – although I believe they do to a small degree.

Look at it this way: NASCAR says this: “This is our car and do what you will. But you will not get the better of us; you will not show us up – ever.”

Yeah, but they will try.

Which, apparently, is what the Johnson team did.

And in so doing its driver has been put in a black hole so early in the season.

But do not think he cannot get out of it. Do not think he cannot excel without Knaus. He has done so before.

What’s enticing for all us is to see if he can do it again.

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