Hendrick wins appeal

By wire services
Published March 24, 2005

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Hendrick Motorsports insists it's a by-the-book organization that plays within NASCAR's rules.

If Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch failed inspection, then it had to be a mechanical issue, not cheating.

An appeals panel agreed.

The National Stock Car Racing Commission on Wednesday rescinded the two-race suspensions NASCAR levied against crew chiefs for Johnson and Busch, and instead placed both on 90 days probation.

Chad Knaus and Alan Gustafson were penalized 10 days ago because the cars they prepare for their drivers failed postrace inspection in Las Vegas.

George Silbermann, chairman of the three-man appeals committee, noted that the decision was by majority vote and was not unanimous.

"This decision pertains specifically to the evidence presented in this appeal," he wrote. "The commission's rulings do not have a bearing on existing or announced NASCAR enforcement policies."

NASCAR stiffened its penalty process after the race March 13 in Las Vegas, where Johnson's race-winning car and Busch's second-place car failed inspection. Johnson's was too low and Busch's too high.

Knaus, crew chief for Johnson, was suspended by NASCAR for two races and fined $35,000. Johnson also was docked 25 points, and Jeff Gordon 25 owner points because he is listed as the car owner.

Gustafson was suspended two weeks and fined $25,000. Busch was docked 25 points, as was car owner Rick Hendrick.

The ruling did not change the monetary fines or points deductions. When Johnson was docked the points, he dropped from first to second in the standings. He reclaimed his points lead, though, following his second-place finish in Atlanta last week.

Hendrick on Wednesday maintained that neither crew chief was cheating, and that the cars failed the postrace inspections because of mechanical issues that developed over the 400-mile race.

"I appreciate NASCAR giving us the opportunity to present the facts," Hendrick said. "From our perspective it's important everyone, especially our fans, know that we absolutely had no intention of breaking any rules.

"This sport has a rule book for good reason, and it's vital it be enforced. As an owner, I know it's equally important to have a just forum for teams and a fair system of checks and balances. We respect NASCAR's decision and look forward to carrying some momentum into Bristol."

The commission has yet to hear the appeal for Todd Berrier, crew chief for Kevin Harvick.

Berrier was suspended for four races for illegally rigging Harvick's fuel tank at Las Vegas to appear full during qualifying. Although Richard Childress Racing is appealing the penalty, the team is more concerned with having Berrier's suspension shortened and having the 25 points Harvick was docked reinstated. RCR maintains that because the infraction was during qualifying, points should not be deducted.

The Hendrick camp has been particularly sensitive about being referred to as "cheaters" and for being lumped in with Berrier, who acknowledged to breaking the rules and said he would do so again.

INDYCAR: Adrian Fernandez will be back behind the wheel for the May 29 Indianapolis 500.

Fernandez, 40, stepped out of the cockpit prior to the start of the 2005 IRL IndyCar Series season to concentrate on his duties as a team owner, fielding entries for Scott Sharp and Kosuke Matsuura.

He and co-owner Tom Anderson will still run those other cars at Indianapolis, but will get back into action at the wheel of a Honda-powered Panoz co-owned by Morris Nunn.

CHAMP CAR: The Champ Car World Series will expand its Asian operations with a race next year in Beijing. The organization said it has signed an agreement with the Beijing Auto and Motor Sports Association. Initial discussions indicated the race could be held in either May or September, but that has yet to be decided, officials said.

Indianapolis-based Champ Car already races in Korea and Australia.

FORMULA ONE: F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone and three banks have reached agreement over control of the world's premier open-wheel racing series.

Details of the settlement were not disclosed, and it was not immediately clear what impact the agreement would have on the sport. Ecclestone is trying to fight off a rival breakaway series.

His attorneys and those representing the banks told High Court Judge Peter Smith that the dispute, set for trial later this year, has been resolved. Bayerische Landesbank, Lehman Brothers and J.P. Morgan Chase own 75 percent of Ecclestone's SLEC Holdings, which runs Formula One.

In December, the court ruled in favor of the banks, saying Ecclestone acted unfairly in preventing them from appointing board members to the holding companies within SLEC.

Ecclestone has controlled F1 for 25 years. A rival group, known as Grand Prix World Championship, is threatening to start its own series - or take over F1 - in 2008.