[media-credit name=”Ed Coombs” align=”alignright” width=”216″][/media-credit]If five time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is going to reclaim his title and score the “six pack” this year, then he and his Hendrick Motorsports #48 team are going to have to overcome some very early season adversity. The 2012 NASCAR racing season has only completed one race and it’s already been a tough season for this championship caliber team.

NASCAR issued an official statement, on February 29th, announcing penalties levied against this team due to the car’s failure to pass technical inspection prior to the official start of Speedweeks at Daytona. The penalties handed down by NASCAR contain four key areas:

Crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec have been suspended from participating from the next six Sprint Cup Series championship events, suspended from NASCAR until April 18th and placed on probation until May 9th.

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Knaus was additionally fined $100,000

Jimmie Johnson was penalized with the loss of 25 championship driver’s points.

Jeff Gordon, the legal owner of record of the #48 team, was penalized with the loss of 25 championship owner’s points.

The driving force behind this punishment was the area of the NASCAR rule book pertaining to unapproved car body modifications. Specifically the problem centered around the car’s C posts; the sheet metal that attaches the roof of the car to the rear quarter panels. During the inspection process at Daytona, NASCAR officials ruled that the shape of these C posts did not conform with their rule book and, in fact, provided the team with an aerodynamic advantage. NASCAR confiscated the C posts and ordered the team to replace them with new ones that did conform to the rules.

The team was informed that they would be allowed to participate in Speedweeks, including the Daytona 500. but they should expect official sanctions to be levied against them in the days that followed the 500.

Hendrick Motorsports has already announced their intent to file an appeal. In a prepared statement, Rick Hendrick said: “our organization respects NASCAR and the way the sanctioning body governs our sport. In this case, though, the system broke down, and we will voice our concerns through the appeals process.”

One of Hendrick’s concerns, prompting him to appeal the ruling, was the fact that this is the same #48 Chevrolet the team used in 2011 during all four of the Sprint Cup restrictor plate races on the schedule: two races at Daytona and two at Talladega. He further pointed out that in each case this particular car passed all levels of technical inspection. He’s also insisting that no changes were made to the car’s body for the 2012 Daytona race.

Johnson participated in the annual Budweiser Shootout invitational event but got caught up in an accident that led to a 14th place finish and a damaged race car. He finished sixth in his Gatorade Duel which earned him eighth starting position for the Daytona 500. But all forms of luck unraveled in a big way when, on lap two of the Daytona 500, Johnson found himself caught up in a major wreck. The result was a 42nd place finish. He left Daytona ranked 37th in the points standings and 45 points out of first place.

With this newly announced penalty from NASCAR, Johnson and company will arrive at next Sunday’s race, at the Phoenix International Raceway, 44th in the championship standings with a negative 23 points.

One race in and it’s already been a tough season for the #48 team.

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