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NASCAR Justice: And Judge John Middlebrook Speaks. But just what was this verdict? Innocent, guilty...or half-guilty?

  With five NASCAR championships, crew chief Chad Knaus gets close scrutiny. But maybe NASCAR could make its secret judiciary a little more open and transparent (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   FONTANA, Calif.
   Upon further review….John Middlebrook's judicial decision Tuesday afternoon in the Chad Knaus/Daytona 500 case appears somewhat disconcerting, in the big picture.
   And NASCAR fans might be rightly scratching their heads this week.
   Was Knaus guilty or innocent? That's still not clear.

   Middlebrook's call – which he offered without explanation – was something of a split decision: rejecting NASCAR's six-race suspension on Knaus and car chief Ron Malek, while upholding a $100,000 fine on Knaus and putting him on six-week 'probation.'
   Does that mean Knaus is guilty or innocent?
   Is it possible to be half-guilty?
   That basic issue is sour enough, but what signal is this whole rigmarole supposed to send to Sprint Cup teams…and what are fans themselves supposed to think?
   Knaus says he ran the same car in all four Daytona-Talladega plate races last year, and each time it passed NASCAR inspection.
   Johnson remember won Talladega last spring. So are NASCAR and Middlebrook leaving a shadow over that win?
   Middlebrook was appointed by NASCAR to the role of final arbiter in penalty cases in this sport. And by not explaining his thinking in this case, Middlebrook may be doing a disservice to the sport's fans, who deserve a little clearer answer.
    NASCAR conducts these judicial proceedings in secret, and there is no courtroom transcript, no specific list of evidence.


Rick Hendrick, with Jimmie Johnson (L) and Chad Knaus (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   However Hendrick , who led the appeals process for his team, seemed pleased with the how the behind-closed-doors debate went.
   And now: "I'm glad this is over. It's been a long 30 days," Hendrick said.
    "I appreciate we had an opportunity to present all the facts. And I was happy with the outcome, and to see the points reinstated.
    "I would have liked to have the fine gone too, because I think there was no reason for any kind of penalty."
    Hendrick said he could see some of NASCAR's side in the debate: "When you're making these kinds of decisions, and you're at a track, it's hard to make all the right decisions.
    "But I felt from the very beginning that we were clearly, by the rulebook, within the guidelines.
     "And the car had been seen multiple times (by NASCAR inspectors) and raced everywhere we raced in 2011 (both Daytonas and both Talladegas)."
    Most rival teams owners would have simply accepted the penalties and gone on down the road, considering the very few times a NASCAR at-track penalty has been reversed.
    "Why was I doing this? Because I believe so much in the facts," Hendrick said.
    "It just felt like to me this was the only way it could go."
    The case Hendrick made to Middlebrook was straightforward: "The car went to the tech center; it was inspected at the track; it was inspected at the tech center on multiple occasions.
     "It was at the tech center as late as January, and the car had not been altered.
    "We even had one of the NASCAR officials make a comment about the car being correct -- the c-posts in the template area.
     "We had all that documented.
    "We keep very good records of our cars. And we have shots of the cars on the line in practices. We had photos of the car in an inspection.
    "After it passed that race-winning tech inspection (last April at Talladega), we had three sworn affidavits that the c-posts were never touched after that.
      "If an official says the car is right…the car goes through the tech center and passes…we have an affidavit that says it hasn't been touched.
      "So what's the issue?"
      Indeed. Why all the fuss?
      Hendrick says Middlebrook listened the whole lengthy case that Hendrick presented, and reviewed all the documentation.
     NASCAR's inspection processes have improved dramatically over the years, and Hendrick pointed out "We (Hendrick Motorsports) had 60 motors at Daytona…(and) I haven't had an engine dispute in 10 years….
      "So there are ways to eliminate all these things.
       "NASCAR is working hard to get there, because nobody enjoys this."
     And that $100,000 fine?
    "All I can tell you is by the rulebook the car was legal," Hendrick said. "If that wasn't the case, we wouldn't have gotten this overturned."

    Knaus himself? The month-long appeals process may have taken a toll: "We had to put a lot of effort into this to prove our innocence….
    "There are two sides to every story: my side, NASCAR's side, and the truth, that always lies in the middle somewhere.
    "Obviously we're not happy with the fine; that's an awful lot of money for something that was clearly proven to be okay.
    "But it's over with. It's time to move on."



    Car chief Ron Malek: overturned too (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

The ruling was actually,

The ruling was actually, "Guilty, but we don't care."

I don't know where to start.

I don't know where to start. This just looks real bad from any angle you look at it.

Having a single individual with close personal ties to both the team owner and the car manufacturer in question overturn a ruling previously upheld by a 3 member panel, which made it's determinations from NASCAR's own Inspection personnel, none of which maintain these close personal ties, and terms such as Conflict if Interest, Conspiracy, and Payola begin to to surface.

Add to it Middlebrook's reluctance to explain his decision in any form of detail, and it looks even worse. If he had good cause to overturn the penalties that he did while leaving some intact, then there's no reason why he shouldn't justify what he did. That's why he's there.

This car body was obviously manipulated, or those inspectors would not have made the calls they made, nor would the first appeal panel not upheld their ruling. How do these people look and feel now? If I was any of them I would be more than pissed off. And not to mention, the likes of Clint Bowyer and Shane Wilson, who had to serve their penalties for that measly 1/16" variance, when this body manipulation is supposed to be taboo in the eyes on NASCAR.

I guess if you are Rick Hendrick, things are different. That, or he is still buying his way out of tight spots when he needs to. Maybe both.

I understand all the uproar

I understand all the uproar about a GM guy passing verdict on a GM guy. But i've known John M for years and he's as good as they come. No question about that. my only questions here are 1, why didnt he come out and explain his thinking, particularly on the $100,000 fine, and 2, well, maybe JM should well have recused himself, for any appearance of conflict of interest. but then i have some serious qualms about nascar's whole 'quasi-judicial' system to begin with. like, wouldn't a simple jury of peers be acceptable? you think that might work, for credibility?

The fact that over and over

The fact that over and over and over again, Chad gets caught cheating(...whether or not he is punished). It certainly puts a dark cloud over the legitmacy of Jimmy's championships.

I've all but stopped going to NASCAR races. Who wants to drive several hours, fork out premium dollars for hotel, camping, food, etc. just to see Jimmy win another race. It is obvious that the "fix is in". I might as well stay home and watch WWF!

And how about LOWES? They apparently condone cheating by continuing to sponsor the cheatin'est team in motorsports!

Mike, the problems with "Jury

Mike, the problems with "Jury of his own Peers" begins with, some, as in his friends, will give him the benefit of doubt where they see it, and others, who may have had a history with him, won't give him an inch, even where there are gray areas or even obvious slants to his side. It's a pretty good subject, as far as who the right people are that should be on these types of panels.

But I understand your point, and I believe what you say about JM. But the thought of Conflict of Interest is still prominent, as well as the situation with 1 person overriding a 3 person panel, and I need to let this whole thing simmer down a bit more before I can move on as a fan.

I've been watching this sport since I was a kid, and I'm 50 now. NASCAR has been digging itself a hole over the last few years, and this little saga isn't helping their image. I think you know what I mean.

One last thing, It's kind of ironic that the next race up is one of JJ's best. It's also my "home track", as I live fairly close in Palmdale. I don't know what the heck to do. I'm still pissed, but I can't entirely ignore racing either. I'll get over it eventually I guess.

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