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And Chad Knaus says......

  So, will this NASCAR controversy rattle Jimmie Johnson's cage, enough to open up the championship chase again? Crew chief Chad Knaus, here atop the hauler Friday at Kansas Speedway, hopes not (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   KANSAS CITY, Kansas
   Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, has pushed NASCAR's rules to the limit so many times he's earned a reputation as wizard of the stock car garage.
   And of course he's had his hands slapped several times:
   Like that four-race suspension in early 2006 for a trick rear window in Daytona 500 qualifying….and that two-week suspension in early 2005 for failing post-race height inspection after winning Las Vegas.
    So Knaus' take on this week's post-Dover inspection controversy, and NASCAR's 'warning' that Knaus and fellow crew chief Alan Gustafson were too 'close' on body tolerances at that track, where they finished one-two:
    "I can promise you that the last thing we want is to put ourselves in a situation where we have a deficit, or any type of penalty, or anything looming over this.
    "If we were cheating, I wouldn't be standing here. I'd back in Charlotte (on suspension).
   "We've had our issues in the past. Trust me, I've had multiple discussion with (NASCAR president) Mike Helton and those guys in the past. The last thing I want to do is sit in a closed-door meeting with Mike Helton again, over what has happened to me in my past.
    "We've worked really hard to clean up the reputation of this team…and we're going to hold that to the highest regard and the highest integrity.
    "We're not going to go down that path…
    "And we're going to win as many races as we can and as many championship as we can as legal as we can."   
   So was Johnson's Dover-winning car 'off-set,' giving him an edge in the corners?
   That's the part of the puzzle NASCAR was inspecting.
   And NASCAR's John Darby says it was close but legal.
   How well that sells to rival crew chiefs, well, that's up for debate. So far crew chiefs have been asking for more details, and they don't seem to be very satisfied with the answers from NASCAR.
   Knaus and Johnson both insist it's a non-issue. "It's not that big an issue, it's really not," Knaus says.
   Knaus says it's just a matter of trying to make accurate measurements down to the thousandths of an inch….some incredibly tight tolerances, given the wear-and-tear on a car during a three-hour race.
   But NASCAR, after years of watching high-dollar teams twist and bend and contort race car bodies in order to improve handling through expensive aerodynamic tricks, has tried with this car-of-tomorrow to eliminate that.
   Generally it appears to have worked (though it certainly hasn't made the racing any less expensive or entice new team owners and sponsors into the sport).
   So one big question here is why is NASCAR making a flap over the Johnson and Martin Dover cars?
   Obviously, with more low TV ratings, and the looming threat of the championship chase already down to a two-man fight between Martin and Johnson with the season still two months to go, NASCAR would like to see someone catch up with the Hendrick machine.
   And with the Tuesday night debut of a new movie about Rick Hendrick's NASCAR career, that was probably not the best moment to make any issue about Dover questions, so waiting till Wednesday might have made more sense…even if the extra day at the R&D shop might have raised eyebrows.
   Maybe NASCAR just wants to 'brush back' the Hendrick juggernaut.
   Whatever, if there is 'no issue,' then why did NASCAR raise an issue?
   That's what some rival crew chiefs are asking.
   And, given Knaus' reputation for pulling a few tricks, some rivals are suspicious about this whole thing.
   Then again, why Alan Gustafson and Martin are involved in the same issues is also a question. What about Jeff Gordon's car too?
   Knaus downplays it all: "It's turned into a little bit bigger story than what it was intended to be. The tolerances were a little bit closer than what they've seen in our cars in the past."
   NASCAR, he says, "wanted to get together with us and our cars at Hendrick Motorsports, watch exactly how we are measuring our stuff, and try to develop a little better correlation between the two places.
    "With the way the schedule was to get out here, with flight times, they couldn't do it, because people were leaving. We want to get into our shop and measure the cars together, and make sure we're all doing it the same."
     That, Knaus seemed to be saying, means that this story isn't over, that NASCAR plans to take those two cars over Hendrick's own shop and check Hendrick's system of measurements, probably right after the teams get back from Kansas City.
   Knaus said the measurements at issue – neither side would pinpoint the part of the car at question, except to say it was on the rear – probably came from damage during the race.
   However NASCAR's John Darby says some of the questioned measurements were in areas that had not been damaged.
   "They want to make sure it was the damage…it wasn't something that was built in intentionally," Knaus said.
    "It's just preventive maintenance more than anything. Just to make sure that we don't have a situation.
    "They hold this car in very high regard, and we all understand that.
    "The last thing that we want, with what we're trying to do here, is to have a situation in post-race inspection."


Let's not all forget the penalty Carl Long got for 0.001"!!

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