The Case of the Great C-Post Conspiracy

Each and every day, in courts of law all across this great land of ours, juries examine evidence of various crimes and make determinations of guilt or innocence based on their interpretation of that evidence.

The most extreme examples are in murder trials; we all remember the 1995 OJ Simpson trial, in which a jury of his peers found the football legend not guilty of the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman.

The criminal justice system did its job, and the process was properly conducted, but millions of Americans still believe Simpson to be guilty as charged, and you will never convince them otherwise.

Granted, this is an extreme example of our frustration with the court system, but the point is that the law has established guidelines to determine guilt or innocence, and if they happen to conflict with our personal opinions, too bad. We just have to learn to breathe in, breathe out, and move on.

Which brings us to the case of Chad Knaus and the Great C-post Conspiracy.

Just to bring you up to speed (pun intended), prior to the Daytona 500 in February, NASCAR officials determined that the C-posts on Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet, for which Knaus is the crew chief, “didn’t look right.” For those of us who don’t know a lot about the finer points of race car construction – my hand is up – the C-post is an apparatus that attaches the roof of the car to the rear quarter-panel. Altering it can give you an aerodynamic advantage; in other words, you’ll go faster.

Despite Hendrick Motorsports’ (HMS) adamant claims that the car had passed inspection on multiple occasions last season, it was ultimately determined that the C-posts didn’t meet NASCAR’s specifications. Johnson, a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, lost 25 driver points, Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick each lost 25 owner points, and Knaus, along with car chief Ron Malec, was slapped with a six-race suspension and a $100,000 fine.

This didn’t cause much of a backlash from NASCAR Nation. Five-time champions don’t get a lot of love from fans of other drivers, and Knaus is no stranger to fines and suspensions. According to which side of the fence you happen to be on, he is either a flagrant cheater or a crafty innovator.

Many believed Knaus to be guilty as charged, and you would never be able to convince them otherwise.

Either way, he does seem to consider NASCAR’s book as more of a suggestion than a rule. The justice system went into action, and the accused party was found guilty, so the next step was taken and the case headed to appellate court. In racing terms, this means that Hendrick Motorsports appealed the suspensions, the point deductions and the fine, and the case was heard by a three-member appeals panel.

The panel upheld the original ruling: Guilty.

At this point, fans went ballistic. One suspects the reaction wouldn’t have been quite so, let’s say animated, if the car in question had been the No. 88, or the No. 14, but in the case of the No. 48, the public felt it was time for NASCAR to take definitive action.

How many times, they asked, will Knaus be allowed to commit these offenses and get away with nothing more than a suspension? Shouldn’t a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule be considered? Ban him from NASCAR altogether! Off with his head!

Not so fast, said Knaus and HMS, who merely smiled and pointed to NASCAR’s very own template — which fit the car perfectly — and moved on up to the Supreme Court.

In this case that was Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook, who overturned the initial ruling. The fine was still levied for some reason, but Johnson, Gordon and Mr. Hendrick got their respective points back, and fans will have the pleasure of seeing Knaus at the track each week without interruption.

Apparently if the template fits, you must acquit. Justice was served, and this time, Knaus and company found it quite tasty.

NASCAR columnist Cathy Elliott is also the author of the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR.” Visit her online at www.mybrainonnascar.com.

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