NASCAR has laid the hammer down right square on its only five-time consecutive championship-winning race team.
The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, piloted by Jimmie Johnson, has been hit with a $100,000 fine, the loss of 25 championship driver and car owner points, and six-week suspensions for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec. The penalties are as a result of an infraction from Feb. 17, when the team's Daytona 500 car failed inspection and its C-posts (the body panels running from the roof to the rear fenders and decklid of a stock car) were confiscated.
Knaus and Malec will likely be with the team this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, as Hendrick Motorsports is appealing the penalty. As with other sports, personnel are allowed to participate until their appeal is heard by the National Stock Car Racing Commision.
If the penalties are upheld - and it is rare for a the commission to completely overturn any sanction handed down by NASCAR - it will be a devastating blow to Johnson's pursuit of his sixth title. He crashed out of the 500 just past the completion of lap one and finished 42nd, netting just two championship points. That alone would have put him in a deep hole heading into this weekend's Subway Fresh Fit 500. Now sitting with -23 points, the first driver since Michael Waltrip in 2007 to have negative points after the Daytona 500, he will likely have to rely on racing his way into the top-20 in points by Richmond in September and making the Chase via a wild card. To do that he will have to score more than the single victory he claimed during the first 26 races.
Long story short, Johnson's entire season likely hinges on whether or not Hendrick Motorsports can win their appeal, which will probably be heard sometime next week.