Originally created 03/16/05

NASCAR: Johnson loses points lead

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Jimmie Johnson lost the Nextel Cup points lead and his crew chief was suspended Tuesday when NASCAR handed out several penalties for violations at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Instead of holding a 15-point lead after his victory Sunday in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, Johnson is now second, 10 points behind series champion Kurt Busch.

Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, was suspended for two weeks and fined $35,000 when the race-winning car failed to meet the minimum height requirement in the post-race inspection.

The crew chiefs for Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick also were suspended.

"Guys have just got to stop playing games with the rules," NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter told The Associated Press. "We've got to do whatever we have to do to protect the integrity of this sport."

Todd Berrier was suspended for four weeks and fined $25,000 for rigging Harvick's fuel tank to appear full when it actually wasn't during qualifying.

Alan Gustafson was suspended for two weeks and fined $25,000 because Kyle Busch's runner-up car was too high in the post-race inspection.

Johnson, Harvick and Kyle Busch were docked 25 points apiece. And 25 car-owner points were taken from Rick Hendrick, the car owner for Kyle Busch; Jeff Gordon, who owns Johnson's car, and Richard Childress, who owns Harvick's.

Hendrick and Childress both said they plan to appeal.

"I'm not disputing NASCAR's right to levy sanctions," he said in a statement. "As a team owner, I understand why these standards are in place and have always taken pride in the fact that our organization has kept a very clean record.

"In this particular instance, though, we disagree with the severity of NASCAR's stance and plan to appeal their decision. I want to make it clear that we in no way intentionally ignored guidelines, and I'm certain everyone understands that."

Childress echoed his fellow team owner.

"I understand NASCAR's reasons for imposing a penalty," he said. "However, I think the penalty they have given us is out of line, so we have decided to appeal their ruling."

Berrier's suspension was severe because he admitted intentionally rigging the 22-gallon tank to appear full when it had just five gallons of gas in it - thereby allowing the car to go faster.

The team was caught because Harvick qualified fourth. If he had been outside of the top five, his car might not have been checked following his run.

And if NASCAR officials weren't already angry, their patience was tested when Berrier showed little remorse after being caught.

"If I had to do it again, I'd still play it to try to get away with it, because I know how I got caught," he told NASCAR.com.

None of the crew chiefs were immediately available for comment. But earlier Tuesday, Johnson insisted his team's error was unintentional and blamed the car's shift in height on a bolt that loosened over the 400-mile race.

"I have 100 percent trust and confidence in Chad that he is going to do everything within the rules," Johnson said.

Hunter said intent was not a factor in the suspensions.

"NASCAR doesn't feel it is fair to the teams who do meet all of the post-race requirements to continue to have people who are pushing it to the limit and then through miscalculations or whatever on their part, fail inspection," he said. "These rules are black and white and we bend over backward if a car has been in a wreck, been hit, to give them the benefit of the doubt.

"This is just unacceptable. So maybe the crew chiefs being at home will help remedy this issue."

None of the suspended crew chiefs will be permitted to communicate with their race teams via cell phone or radio during the time they are suspended, Hunter said.


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