Chad Knaus was adamant Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway that teams are not being given single-sourced supplied parts with correct specifications and Hendrick Motorsports only made the modifications to the hood louvers that resulted in penalties for the team in order to make them fit.
“We made sure our parts fit the hood, and the hood closed and did all the stuff that it needed to do,” said Knaus, Hendrick Motorsports’ vice president of competition (pictured at left, above, with team owner Rick Hendrick).
NASCAR confiscated the hood louvers from all four cars the Friday of Phoenix weekend. Although issues were found beforehand, all four teams were allowed to participate in practice before the louvers were taken.
The teams were penalized earlier this week. In addition to $100,000 fines to all four crew chiefs and suspensions, the Nos. 5, 24, and 48 teams were docked 100 driver points, and all four teams were docked 100 owner points. There was also the loss of 10 playoff points.
“When we started to get parts at the beginning of the 2023 season, we didn’t have the parts we thought we were going to have,” Knaus said. “Through a tremendous amount of back and forth with NASCAR and the OEM and the teams, there’s been conversations about whether we can clean up the parts, not clean up the parts and it’s changed, quite honestly, every couple of weeks. So, it’s been challenging for us to navigate, and we’re going to have to see what happens when we get through the appeal.”
Hendrick Motorsports did not request a deferral of the suspensions, and all four crew chiefs are not at the track this weekend. Without an appeal date, no decision has been made on whether the organization will continue to have Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle, and Blake Harris serve those suspensions going forward.
In a statement issued after the penalty, Hendrick Motorsports said the louvers were taken four hours after the inspection without prior communication.
“It’s really confusing,” said Knaus. “We knew that there was some attention to the area when we first went through technical inspection, and that’s what’s really disappointing to me, quite honestly. We had plenty of time to get those parts off the part if we felt like there was something wrong. I can assure you if we knew there was going to be a four-hour lag and we thought there was something wrong, they would have been in a trash can being burned with fuel somewhere where nobody would ever see them. We had no idea we’d been sitting in this position. So, once again, really disappointing we are in the position we’re in right now.”
NASCAR expects cars to be legal when they show up at the racetrack. However, Knaus said for a voluntary inspection, he doesn’t understand the severity of a penalty seen post-race, such as with RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports last year.
“Again, from my perspective, I think it’s different,” Knaus said. “A voluntary inspection, I don’t understand why you’d be hung and quartered for a voluntary inspection that typically you’d be told, ‘Hey, you need to go work on that,’ or, ‘Hey, we need to discuss what’s going on here.’”
Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said officials work with the teams to ensure parts and pieces fit correctly. However, Sawyer said the louvers from Hendrick Motorsports were modified beyond that level.
Even with all the back and forth, the Hendrick Motorsports statement said there had been inconsistent and unclear communication from NASCAR.
“We submitted a part through the OEM to NASCAR and NASCAR chose a single-source provider for those components,” Knaus said. “The components haven’t been coming the way we expected them to be for a couple of the OEMs, as far as I know, in the garage, and definitely all of the Chevrolet teams.
“We started to have a dialogue with them in early February about those problems. So, it was us through our aerodynamic departments, through our OEM, back through NASCAR, back to us and back through our OEMs. So, there is a significant amount of communication that’s been had and it’s definitely confusing. The timelines are curious, but they’re there.”
Asked if he thought the parts were faulty or if they modified the parts to be acceptable by NASCAR’s standards, Knaus said, “I can tell you this, we’ve got a brand-new set of these parts that we can go pull off the shelf right now that NASCAR deemed illegal and inappropriate to race.”
Knaus denied Hendrick Motorsports learned something from the Garage 56 program to apply to its Cup Series cars. With a different engine and cooling package, Knaus said nothing translates.
Alex Bowman dropped from the point lead to 23rd in the standings with negative playoff 10 playoff points. William Byron dropped to 29th and has three playoff points, losing the 10 from his Las Vegas and Phoenix Raceway wins. Kyle Larson is 32nd in the standings with negative nine playoff points.
Knaus said every part of the penalty is harsh.
“I think it’s a terrible situation not only for us but the industry, to be quite honest with you. I think that’s what I dislike the most. It’s ugly. We shouldn’t be in this situation and it’s really unfortunate we are because it doesn’t help anybody.
“We as a company and we in the garage, every one of these teams here are being held accountable to put their car out there to go through inspection and perform at the level they need to. The teams are being held accountable for doing that. Nobody is holding the single-source suppliers accountable at the level they need to be to give us the parts that we need. Now that goes through NASCAR’s distribution center and NASCAR’s approval process to get those parts, and we’re not getting the right parts.”