DIEZ: Appeals panel upholds NASCAR ruling

To absolutely no one's surprise, the three member appeals panel consisting of Leo Mehl, John Capels, and Dale Pinilis upheld NASCAR's penalties for the No. 48 team in a hearing last Tuesday.

The penalties, levied for illegal C pillars at Daytona, include loss of 25 points for driver Jimmie Johnson and car owner Jeff Gordon; a six-race suspension for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec; and a $100,000 fine for Knaus. Rick Hendrick has further appealed the ruling to the National Stock Car Chief Appellate Officer, the final step in the process. Knaus will be on the pit box for Johnson this weekend at Bristol pending the results of the final appeal, which will take place on March 20. I would be very surprised if the appeal board's ruling is overturned or modified.


It's early in the season, but it appears that the Roush-Fenway teams are going to be strong this season. With Matt Kenseth's Daytona victory and Greg Biffle's points lead, only Carl Edwards is off to a bit of a slow start this season. Bristol is a good track for Biffle, who is looking for his first win of 2012. But it is also a place where a driver can get caught up in somebody else's mess pretty easily, although in recent years since the track reconfiguration there hasn't been quite as much bumping and banging. It's still a short track, and short tracks often mean short tempers. Lucky for Biffle that Boris Said isn't running this weekend (if you remember last year's Watkins Glen race).


Formula 1 fans, your long wait is over. The season-opening Australian Grand Prix begins tonight at 11 p.m. with SPEED's live coverage beginning at 10:30. It will be a long night for commentators Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, and Steve Matchett, who will be broadcasting from SPEED's Connecticut studio. The race is historic, with six world champions on the grid for the first time ever. Kimi Raikkonen is back in the driver's seat with Lotus, joining champions Sebastian Vettel, Jensen Button, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and Michael Schumacher. All told, the six count for 14 championships, fully half of which belong to Mercedes driver Schumacher. Pirelli has provided a much softer range of tire compounds this season, making tire management critical. And rain could also be a factor in the Australian round, with the weather forecast looking a bit iffy. Will we see the end of Red Bull's domination this year, with a much more competitive field? Tune in tonight (or record the race) and find out.


The NHRA Gatornationals fell victim to the same capricious Florida weather that delayed this year's Daytona 500. When the final eliminations were run on Monday, Morgan Lucas took the trophy in Top Fuel with the second-fastest run in NHRA history. Robert Hight won the Funny Car division, Michael Edwards (no relation to Carl) was victorious in Pro Stock and reigning champion Eddie Krawiec smoked the Pro Stock Motorcycle field, setting a national ET record of 6.750 seconds in qualifying.


With any luck the Florida weather will cooperate next weekend for the Izod IndyCar season opener at St. Petersburg, but if it doesn't a rain race might be quite interesting. Twenty-six cars are entered for the event, which will see the racing debut of the new DW012 race car and engines from Chevrolet and Lotus as well as long-time series engine supplier Honda. There will also be a new look on the race officiating side, as the much-despised Brian Barnhart has been removed from Race Control and replaced by Beaux Barfield. Joining Barfield as stewards are ex-drivers Arie Luyendyk and Johnny Unser, and former CART and Champ Car official Gary Barnard.


Finally, voting is open for NASCAR's Most Popular Driver award. Fans can vote once per day at www.MostPopularDriver.com until September 8. At that time, the top 10 drivers will have their totals reset to zero, and fans will have 10 weeks to vote again for their favorite driver.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won the award nine consecutive times, tying Bill Elliott.


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