Charlotte, N.C. NASCAR showed it won't tolerate any modifications to its Car of Tomorrow by levying stiff penalties against Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and their crew chiefs Tuesday.
Gordon, the four-time series champion, and Johnson, the defending Nextel Cup champion, were each docked 100 points. Crew chiefs Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte were both fined $100,000 and suspended for six races because their cars failed an initial inspection at Infineon Raceway.
The penalties are a blow to Hendrick Motorsports, which has 10 wins this season - four each from Gordon and Johnson. Team owner Rick Hendrick said he was disappointed and called the punishment "excessive."
"Right now, all of our options are being evaluated, including our personnel situation and a possible appeal to the National Stock Car Racing Commission," Hendrick said."
The two Hendrick cars failed inspection Friday when NASCAR found unapproved modifications to the fenders on the COT. NASCAR refused to let either driver on the track the entire day, and neither was allowed to qualify.
The fenders were fixed, the cars passed inspection Saturday and were allowed to race Sunday. Gordon, the Nextel Cup points leader, finished seventh. Johnson was 17th.
Hendrick traveled to California after the failed inspection, and argued his crew chiefs were operating in a "gray area" of the rule book as it pertains to the NASCAR-mandated COT.
"I don't necessarily say they bent the rules," Hendrick said. "I think they thought they were working inside an area in which they could."
But NASCAR insisted its rules are black and white, with no wiggle room, especially on the COT.
"In the old days there was a gray area, in the new days ... it's not a gray area," said Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition. "We mean business with this car. There are similar things that could have been done to old cars and because the rules were so loose, we couldn't take a stand."