“I don’t necessarily say they bent the rules,” [Team Owner Rick] Hendrick said after a lengthy team meeting inside of Jeff Gordon’s hauler. “They thought they were working inside of an area they thought they could. The fenders on the car are sitting out there in front of God and everybody. If you’re going to try to do something to gain an advantage you wouldn’t do it and roll it through inspection.”
NASCAR officials said the front right fenders on both cars were flared out beyond the wheel well to create an advantage. Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, called it a blatant attempt to circumvent the rules. Based on what happened to crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. when NASCAR discovered alterations to the rear-wing bracket at Darlington, the ensuing penalty will be substantial. Eury was suspended for six races and fined $100,000, and Earnhardt was docked 100 championship points. Hendrick, anticipating that or worse, already is pleading his case to NASCAR.
“We’ll have to see what the penalty is, but I don’t think the penalty fits the crime in this case when you’re talking about the top of a fender or the side of a fender,” he said. “I don’t see it as a situation where you had a certified part and it’s been altered or anything like that.”
Hendrick said Gordon and Johnson already have been punished enough — they’re being forced to start at the rear of the field. The only driver to win at Infineon from the back was Ernie Irvan, who started at the rear after jumping the start in 1992. We want to play by the rules. I don’t enjoy this. The guys don’t enjoy this. I’m sure NASCAR doesn’t enjoy this. This is a big penalty not being able to qualify and get a good starting spot and good pit spot,” he said. “We’re just hoping for a good finish. If these two cars finish in the top 10 tomorrow I’ll be happy.”