Johnson's crew chief barred from Daytona 500

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Jimmie Johnson's crew chief was thrown out of the Daytona 500 on Monday for illegal modifications made to Johnson's car during pole qualifying.

Chad Knaus was accused of raising the rear window on the No. 48 Chevrolet to alter aerodynamics during Johnson's run Sunday. The infraction was discovered in a post-qualifying inspection when the car failed to fit NASCAR templates.

NASCAR said Knaus cannot appeal the ejection.

NASCAR also said the team is subject to additional penalties, which would not be announced until after Sunday's Daytona 500.

Johnson finished fifth in pole qualifying, but he will have to start from the rear of the field during Thursday's 150-mile races that set the rest of the Daytona 500 lineup.

Two-time NASCAR champion Terry Labonte also had his qualifying run disallowed Sunday, but the series said any penalties against that team would not be announced until next week.

NASCAR acted quickly against the 34-year-old Knaus, possibly because he has been penalized repeatedly for rules infractions.

Knaus was suspended two races and fined $35,000 last year because Johnson's race-winning car failed to meet the minimum height requirement during post-race inspection at Las Vegas. The team also was docked 25 championship points.

Knaus successfully appealed the suspension, getting it reduced to 90 days of probation, but the fine and points penalty were upheld.

He also was fined more than $30,000 over the 2002 and 2003 season for various violations, including one for cursing on live television.

Knaus is widely considered the best crew chief in the garage -- a title that can be both satisfying and stigmatizing.

He's driven and demanding. He's ultra-confident -- some might even say cocky. And he's so creative that NASCAR closed loopholes in the rule book to prevent Knaus from exploiting them.

A Ray Evernham protege, Knaus learned much of what he knows from working under Evernham as an original member of the "Rainbow Warriors," the crew that pushed Jeff Gordon to three of his NASCAR championships.

Evernham's imprint can be found in much of what Knaus does -- to the point where he's often chided and referred to as "Little Ray" around the garage.

There are worse things to be called. After all, Evernham molded Gordon into a champion, won three titles, then parlayed that success into his own three-car empire.

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