Can you give us any more indication of what NASCAR is saying you guys did and what you’re going to try to argue on for the appeal?
Knaus: “Honestly, it’s pretty messy right now as we’re trying to figure out exactly what angle we’re going to take. I know that the whole industry went through a tremendous amount of work in the latter-stages of 2022 to try to get a new.. INAUDIBLE.. package from a cooling standpoint to help fix what maybe another OEM had problems with last year.
At the end of last year, everyone worked an awful lot; were very diligent on getting the spec parts developed. Everything done in the parity test that needed to be. When we started to get parts at the beginning of the 2023 season, we didn’t have the parts that we thought we were going to have. So through a tremendous amount of back and forth with NASCAR, the OEMs 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 just going to have to see what happens when we get through the appeal.”
There has been a lot of talk about maybe something you guys learned in Garage 56 with the louvers there that maybe were applied..
Knaus: “No, that’s not it at all. That’s a completely different package. It doesn’t even have the same cooling package or the same engine.. nothing of that translates.”
It was said that it was a voluntary inspection.
Knaus: “Yes, ma’am.”
Did NASCAR come to you and say ‘let us’, or did you go to NASCAR and say ‘hey, take a look at this’?
Knaus: “The way the voluntary inspections happen; when you show up to the race track with that type of a schedule, you have a mandatory safety and a mandatory engine inspection. Everything else beyond that is up to the teams. We typically choose to go ahead and put the car in for the voluntary inspection so that NASCAR has the opportunity to say ‘hey, we don’t like this’ or ‘maybe you need to tweak that’, or whatever it may be. And that’s been pretty much the standard cadence. I don’t know that there’s too many teams that usually go through the voluntary inspections and don’t get told ‘hey, you need to come work on this a little bit before you show back up tomorrow’.”
The statement stated that the communication documented was inconsistent and unclear. Was that with the manufacturer or was that directly with Hendrick Motorsports with specific questions that you guys had?
Knaus: “Yeah, there’s been dialogue. Like I stated, we submitted a part through the OEM to NASCAR, and then NASCAR chose the single source provider for those components. The components haven’t been coming the way that we expected them to be for a couple of the OEM’s as far as I know in the garage, and definitely all of the Chevrolet teams. So we started to have dialogue with them in early February about those problems.
So it was us through our aerodynamic department, through our OEM, back through NASCAR, back to us and back through our OEM. So there’s a significant amount of communication that’s been had. It’s definitely confusing. The timelines are curious, but they’re there.”
What you had done to the louver to make it fit, essentially, at Phoenix Raceway that created the issue, is that something you had done at Las Vegas, Auto Club or Daytona this year?
Knaus: “There was a parity test – as you guys know, we went to a new aerodynamic package when we went to Phoenix (Raceway). As they did that, what the OEM did when they went through the parity test, per NASCAR’s guidance, was to modify the louver.. INAUDIBLE.. to get the airflow correct through there so that we could fit inside the aerodynamic box that NASCAR created. So the OEM did that.. we went to Phoenix with what would be considered the new aerodynamic package – the small spoiler, the underbody treatments, all of that. All of that being the same thing in how the cars were tested to be proper for the parity test.”
Do you have an appeal date yet?
Andrews: “We have not received that yet.”
The communication issue regarding parts – is that just specific to louvers or has it involved other parts?
Knaus: “It’s been trying. Look, we’ve all jumped in bed on this thing together since we started this Gen-7 car. And that’s the thing that I think we’ve all prided ourselves on in the garage, is that there’s been a tremendous amount of give-and-take as we’ve tried to learn how to race this car and work together. It’s very disappointing to me that we’re sitting in this situation right now with a component that we’ve all come to the conclusion that it is not correct, and we’ve all tried to work to get it fixed because we’ve done that with other parts.”
Do you feel like the parts were faulty and that’s why you’ve been penalized, or did you modify the parts in a way that you thought was acceptable to NASCAR?
Knaus: “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 for us to race.”
Are you going to ask for the crew chiefs to be back next week if the appeal is not next week, or will you continue to use interim crew chiefs until the appeal is heard?
Knaus: “Jeff (Andrews) and I have discussed it with Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) and Mr. Gordon (Jeff Gordon), and we’re just going to see when the appeal comes down. We’re going to take it week-by-week and understand what it is that we need to do as the timeline develops.”
Are you working in conjunction at all with Kaulig Racing because they had an issue since they are a Chevrolet team, or because you’re two different organizations you’re doing your own thing?
Knaus: “We’re not holding hands right now at this point, but I’m sure there’s going to be communication as we get a little bit further. But to what level, I can’t disclose on that yet.”
To clarify, in the statement, it says the voluntary inspection took place and then it was four hours later that NASCAR came back and took them. Do you have any idea why there was such a gap.. why they didn’t just spot it then?
Knaus: “No, it’s really confusing. We knew there was some attention to that area when we first went through technical inspection. And that’s what’s really disappointing, to be quite honest, because we had plenty of time to get those parts off the car if they 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 the trash can and burned with fuel somewhere so nobody would ever see them. We had no idea that we were going to be sitting in this position. So once again, really disappointed that we’re in the position that we’re in right now.”
Is the goal a full overturn of the appeal, a reduction or wait to see what happens?
Knaus: “We’re still working on that.”
You guys were penalized, Kaulig Racing was penalized.. do you have any idea why other teams weren’t doing what you were doing?
Knaus: “I don’t know if they were or weren’t.”
The statement stated that the severity of the penalty is similar to a post-race penalty.
Knaus: “From my perspective, I think it’s different. A voluntary inspection, I don’t understand why you would be hung and ordered for a voluntary inspection. Typically, you would be told ‘hey, you need to go work on that’ or ‘hey, we need to discuss what’s going on here’.”
Andrews: “If you look back at 2022 and the L2 penalties that were handed out, all of those were post-race inspection penalties. There was not a L2-level penalty handed out in 2022 during a pre-race - or at that point even a pre-inspection - where a part was taken and a penalty was issued.”
Generally, NASCAR says once the car is in the garage, it’s open for inspection and for parts to be taken. What is the argument for that it was voluntary or why is that different?
Knaus: “Because it specifically said voluntary inspection when you rolled into Phoenix. Specifically.”
Regardless of the outcome of the appeal, what’s the impact of having four crew chiefs suddenly suspended?
Knaus: “Yeah, you go through the depth chart pretty quick when that happens, obviously. But we’re very fortunate at Hendrick Motorsports and the leadership we have there. We’ve got some amazing people that can fill in and help us out through these trying times.
Obviously, Tom Gray has a tremendous amount of experience working closely with the No. 9 team and Alan Gustafson (crew chief). We’ve got Kevin Meendering, who unfortunately had to sit in last year on the No. 5. Greg (Ives), obviously he’s right at how with the No. 48. And Brian Campe is a great fit for the No. 24 team. We’re in a really good spot there. We feel like we can continue down the path of being successful; racing hard and doing what it is we need to do for our partners.”
With that said, why aren’t you one of the crew chiefs?
Knaus: “I’m too old, man. I don’t have it anymore.”
Do you feel like the harshest impact of the penalty is the 10 playoff points and any potential playoff points that could be gained by regular-season finishes?
Knaus: “I think it all is. It’s a terrible situation.. not only for us, but for the industry, to be quite honest with you. That’s what I dislike the most – it’s ugly, we shouldn’t be in this situation and it’s really unfortunate that we are because it doesn’t help anybody.”
You said it’s a terrible situation.. what is it about the situation that’s terrible?
Knaus: “We as a company, we as the garage – every one of these teams are being held accountable to put their car out there to go through inspection and perform at the level that they need to. The teams are being held accountable for doing that. Nobody is holding the single source providers 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.”
How can that be fixed other than saying we need the right parts.. is that more on NASCAR’s shoulders?
Knaus: “Yeah, absolutely. There are so many areas that we need to continue to improve upon. And again, that’s where I’m probably the most disappointed is that we’ve been going down this path working collectively as a group for quite some time, and for this to pop up like this is really disappointing.”
Elton said NASCAR works with the teams to make sure the parts fit properly, but he specifically used the words ‘this was modified outside of those bounds’. It seems like you take offense to - we modified these for performance.
Knaus: “We have a CAD that has been submitted by the OEM, and the OEM gets that CAD from NASCAR. It’s NASCAR’s responsibility to make sure the parts we get fit the car.”
Are you saying you pretty much modified the parts to fit the hood?
Knaus: “We made sure our parts fit the hood, and the hood closed and did all the stuff that it needed to do.”