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A stunner: John Middlebrook rules on Chad Knaus

   Crew chief Chad Knaus (R) is vindicated, in his NASCAR appeal (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   In a stunning move, John Middlebrook -- NASCAR's ultimate arbiter, in the sport's rather odd judicial appeals system -- ruled Tuesday in favor of Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, in the controversial penalty over Johnson's Daytona 500 car.
   The verdict is final.

   Thus the 25-point penalty assessed Johnson and team owner Rick Hendrick (under Jeff Gordon's name) has been overturned. That puts Johnson 11th in Sprint Cup standings heading this week to Fontana, Calif., for Sunday's California 500.
    Thus also the six-race suspension Knaus had been facing has been overturned, as well as a six-race suspension for car chief Ron Malec.
     However Middlebrook, curiously, allowed a $100,000 fine on Knaus to stand. And Middlebrook said both Knaus and Malec will remain on 'probation' until early May.
    Middlebrook's reasoning was not immediately known, because he did not appear outside NASCAR's R&D center, where the appeal was held, to explain anything.
    Clearly there is a major question about why Middlebrook would overturn the biggest penalties but allow the other penalties to remain: is Knaus guilty or not guilty?
    And what message should NASCAR teams and crew chiefs take from Middlebrook's decision?
   The debate concerned the C-posts of Johnson's Daytona 500 car, when it was first presented for pre-race inspection Friday February 16th, before the February 26th race.
    NASCAR officials insisted those C-posts -- the rear part of the car where the 'opera window' connects to the rear window -- were not legal, even though there is not a specific body template for that part of the car.
    Knaus' defense was that the car in question had been used at both Daytona and both Talladega races in 2011 and passed NASCAR inspections every weekend.
    Adding to the controversy is that the car in question never made it to the track before the infraction was listed. Some in the sport have long argued that a car that fails initial weekend inspection should not be subject to such major penalty. Indeed some cars that were found 'illegal' later in that weekend are penalized much less severely.
   Middlebrook's surprising decision follows by one week a ruling by a three-man NASCAR-appointed panel upholding the initial penalties.
   Under NASCAR's curious judicial system, the sport's owners appoint someone to be the ultimate arbiter, usually someone long-established in the sport. Middlebrook, appointed three years ago, is a veteran General Motors executives with close ties to that company's NASCAR sponsorships. His legitimacy and reputation are unquestioned.
   However appeals of NASCAR at-track penalties are rarely overturned, very rarely.
   Middlebrook's first decision came in the fall of 2010, when Clint Bowyer was hit with a 150-point penalty and his crew chief Shane Wilson with a six race suspension, for a car that didn't meet post-race inspection after winning at Loudon, N.H.  Middlebrook, in that case, upheld the points penalty but reduced Wilson's suspension for four races
   Overturning Johnson's points penalty was quite surprising. That initial penalty, coupled with Johnson's early Daytona 500 crash, put him 23 points down after only the year's first event.
   Clearly Middlebrook was trying to send a message, but just what message, and to whom, was not immediately obvious.
   Initial reaction to Middlebrook's ruling, from Kyle Petty, who had been extremely upset with the general format of the NASCAR judiciary:
   "Finally a voice of reason in a sea of insanity. 
   "But this was not what I expected. 
   "I said from the beginning that the punishment didn’t fit the crime, and the points penalty was way over the top, in my opinion."


   John Middlebrook, NASCAR's final judge (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Well, we can't let integrity

Well, we can't let integrity get in the way of some good old fashioned cronyism can we?

well, first, i have no

well, first, i have no reservations about john middlebrook. he is a class act. and he didnt really have to take this job, remember. for $1 a year, would you put up with all this grief? not me.
however, that said, recusal might have been the better policy here. but who then to hear the case? it's hard to find anyone who knows the sport well enough to sit in judgement and not have been in some position seen as a possible conflict of interest, i would think. who might you recommend for this case?

Mr. Middlebrook is a friend

Mr. Middlebrook is a friend of Mr. Hendricks, correct? Why did he not recuse himself from this case?

yes, in retrospect that would

yes, in retrospect that would have been a good decision.

so, in other words keep the

so, in other words keep the 100,000 as a token of our appreciation.

That $100,000 is a big

That $100,000 is a big question in my mind. it makes no sense. that's a darned big amount of money (enough to keep mikemulhern.net running for quite a while lol), and to keep that as a penalty says there was something fishy going on. why can't we get the whole story here...why can't we -- fans -- get an open courtroom so we too can hear all the facts and make our own judgements? what is the reason for so much secrecy?

Why is no one commenting

Why is no one commenting about the conflict of interest of having Middlebrook, a former GM executive tied closely to Nascar's GM teams, being the ultimate judge of Hendricks team, who have run GM cars during their entire 25+ years existence. Is it just me, or does this not seem like a major conflict of interest. In fact, I would suggest if Hendrick could pick one person to hear his appeal, it would of been Middlebrook. Maybe this is why ole "Slick Rick" was so adamant about appealing the ruling all the way - he knew if he could get it to Middlebrook, he was home free....smh!!!!

Mike Listen the problem is


Listen the problem is the Conflict of Interest of having Middlebrook,who Hendrick had to lobby to get this job...

You can deny it, look for 'nonissues' to explain the tech things and in the end...having a crony in a rules making decision is what won!

He overturned a 3 member panel whos resume was not so onesided...

If you remember back..I told on your column Middlebrook should never had this positon...its not right or fair for the other teams and 'other brand of cars' to have one with such a oneside resume...they could have got someone not so biased!

Jenna Fryers column was very revealing and I salute her for bring facts on the Hendrick - Middlebrook connection...she stated Hendrick has knowen Middlebrook for over 20 years.. and when Middlebrook retired from GM in 2008..Hendrick was one of 6 people to speak at his retirement ceremony....

Also have another brand of car in nascar had to courage to appeal to Middlebrook? dont think so..this gives GM and expecialy Hendrick the added benefit of having the advantage taking risks because of having a freind as a judge...while the other teams are scared to try..

The last few years the nascar point title and make the chase has been won by only a few points...40 YEAR GM employee and close friend and ally John Middlebrook gets to make the last call...now thats the stunner!!!!!

i understand all the

i understand all the screaming about conflict of interest, but i have known john middlebrook for more than 20 years and he is as solid as they come. i have no questions about any call he might make. (well, i did tell him a while back that he made a big mistake in getting GM to dump the Pontiac brand, and I still believe that was a major marketing mistake, but maybe that's beside this point).
however, the possible appearance of conflict of interest is real, and in the eyes of fans worth raising cain about. but that is something nascar execs should have realized back when he was appointed, and they should have had some Plan B for just such incidents. Me, i'd be reviewing the entire 'quasi-judicial' system in nascar and make some changes.
of course all this begs the issue about why nascar officials even created this hoopla down at daytona in the first place. it seems rather trivial, to be honest, for all the hullabaloo we've seen.

I don't believe there should

I don't believe there should have been any penalties what so ever. If NASCAR chooses not to prove their inspection then it's probably because they didn't believe it would fail the template inspection. They just can't have the 48 win another championship or stink up the show as Bill Sr would say. NASCAR is plenty worried about losing sponsors from the Ford and Toyota camps as well as a manufacturer leaving.

i am indeed perplexed about

i am indeed perplexed about this whole situation. first off, as much crashing as they were doing at daytona, what difference would a 'good' c-post have really been, except maybe in qualifying. but then from everything i've learned about this thing is the full story still isn't out there in public for all of us to judge, and that is the sad part -- nascar has to prove itself to the fans in a case like this, not hide the real story behind closed doors. an open court room is an american tradition, when lives are on the line remember, and nascar is at heart just a sport. fans deserve better. imho

"(Middlebrook)... is a

"(Middlebrook)... is a veteran General Motors executives with close ties to that company's NASCAR sponsorships."

Nuff said.........

i'm thinking recusal might

i'm thinking recusal might have been a good call here.

What a load of horses__t you

What a load of horses__t you dont have to ask me why I have quit watching that WLW wrestling, what a joke

Mike Let's be clear...you are


Let's be clear...you are revealing too much info and it's telling on yourself!

You seem so privy to all the positions Middlebrook has held at GM..you known him for over 20 yrs..did you work for GM?

Now you are have a conflict of interest yourself..trying to look for all the penny pinching issues..

See Mike not everyone is a Rick Hendrick flavor of the month fan or GM...and when we spent money to go to races..we want to know all the policys are in place..that the races are legit...Getting to see someone who had to get a pardon by Bill Clinton and to have that person have a handpicked choice at the bull pull pit..it's not getting it!

Jimmy Spencer laid out what was obvious..on Speed RaceHub last thursday...and what did Speed do? take his commentary down off the internet....we need to know who did it and why? this maybe a Watergate Scandal brewing hear...

Mike Helton in my opinion needs to go..be replace with some else..if in fact like you said he hired Middlebrook..

work for gm? lol. no, i

work for gm? lol. no, i worked for a newspaper, the winston-salem journal, for 30 years covering this sport, until newspapers started dropping nascar, for some reason.
Ford's Jack Roush told me today that, while he didn't really want to comment about the ChadKnaus/Daytona/JohnMiddlebrook flap, he was somewhat surprised that Middlebrook didn't recuse himself, because of apparent conflict of interest. i agree. but nascar put him in that position. i think the entire nascar quasi-judicial system needs revamping; if justice doesnt seem clear to fans, for whatever reason, the system needs to be changed.
Mr. E speaks his mind, and he's usually right-on, which is why the powers that be edit him into oblivion. can't believe TV hasnt just fired him. NASCAR-TV has very little credibility imho, and most fans can see right through it.

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