His crew chief Chad Knaus was suspended six races and fined $100,000, and his car chief will have to watch for six races, too. Johnson also was docked 25 points and heads into this weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway last in the Sprint Cup standings.
Coming off his worst year in NASCAR, this isn’t how the five-time champion wanted to get his season started.
“It’s certainly not a position we want to be in,” Johnson said Friday. “But there’s a lot of racing between now and September.”
Johnson wasn’t much of a factor last season in his bid to win his sixth consecutive Sprint Cup championship. He made the Chase after winning only one race and finished sixth in the final standings, 99 points behind champion Tony Stewart.
Johnson vowed to turn it around in 2012, but it didn’t get off to a very good start.
His car failed inspection the opening day of Speedweeks on Feb. 17 after NASCAR ruled the No. 48 Chevrolet had illegally modified sheet metal between the roof and the side windows, an area known as the C-posts.
Johnson’s short race and penalty dropped him to minus 23 points in the standings.
“It’s going to make things exciting, and that’s something we like to do with the 48 team,” Knaus said. “It seems somehow or another we seem to get through adversity pretty well. So, I’m not saying we like a challenge like this, but I’m pretty sure we’ll rise to the occasion.”
Knaus said the car had passed inspection on “multiple occasions” with the same configuration and that they didn’t anticipate any problems heading into Speedweeks. He also said the failed inspection was based on an eyeball test, not anything technical.
“The templates never were actually put on the car,” he said. “We never got the opportunity to present it on the templates. That definitely will come up during the appeal and we’ll talk about it. NASCAR has a good set of standards that are black and white and others that are not.”
Knaus has been suspended four previous times, the first coming in 2001 while serving as crew chief for Stacy Compton, who NASCAR said had an unapproved shoulder harness in his car. Knaus also was suspended when Johnson won the 2006 Daytona 500 with Darian Grubb filling in, and he sat out six weeks in 2007 when NASCAR said he had flared out the front bumpers of Johnson’s car at Sonoma.
“As successful as we’ve been over the course of the years, obviously it goes through a little bit more scrutiny – it’s inspected more,” Knaus said.