SONOMA, Calif. -- Nextel Cup points leader Jeff Gordon and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson were banned from on-track activities Friday, and their status for Sunday's event at Infineon Raceway was in jeopardy after NASCAR discovered illegal front-end modifications in initial inspection.
The cars of neither Gordon, the defending race champion, nor Johnson will be allowed to practice or qualify Friday.
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said both cars "failed the initial inspection ... as a result of body modifications found to be outside NASCAR tolerances. The front fender [of both cars] was modified outside of NASCAR regulations. They did not meet the C2 template inspection."
"When we presented the cars for inspection today [NASCAR] found our fenders were outside their limits in between the templates," said Doug Duchardt, Hendrick Motorsports' vice president of development. "The cars fit the templates. We thought we could work on the points between the templates and it became clear to us [in inspection] that we could not."
According to Poston, Hendrick Motorsports' No. 5 and No. 25 cars, for Kyle Busch and Casey Mears, passed inspections.
Poston added, "both teams have an opportunity to repair and resubmit their cars" for inspection up to the start of practice Saturday. "Assuming they pass inspection, they can practice [Saturday] and start at the rear of the field [Sunday]," he said.
Gordon, as expected, alluded to the birth Wednesday of his daughter Ella as having more of his attention than the setback, when asked his outlook on a track where "no one has ever won from the back."
"Nothing's going to ruin my day or my weekend -- I'm on cloud nine," Gordon said.
"This is devastating news ... and this definitely puts us in box. We'll just have to work our way out of it. I'm looking forward to getting out there [Saturday]. I think pit strategy [on Sunday] will be very important for us."
"It's important to know this is a Car of Tomorrow penalty," Poston said of the short-term severity of the sanction. "The inspection process and NASCAR's response to Car of Tomorrow violations are going to be more severe.”
"We're going to keep this car in check. It's important to know all cars in the field are starting out equal and have the ability to win the race."
Poston said both teams' crew chiefs, Steve Letarte on the No. 24 and Chad Knaus on the No. 48, would be allowed to supervise the repairs, and at this point, NASCAR had no plans to immediately confiscate the cars.
"My understanding is the 48 has been through inspection and is waiting at the garage for my direction," Knaus said. "I think the 24 is close behind them, although it's my understanding we won't get inspection stickers until [Saturday]."
Said driver Kyle Petty, who will be mic'd for TNT during Sunday's race: "You have a rule book, and we have rules. NASCAR has been adamant about the COT. For 24 months they've been adamant about the COT, "Don't mess with us on this.'
“I think we've already seen it when a mistake was made by the 8 car. We saw how drastic they approached a mistake, so anytime you get into something they deem intentional it's gonna be big. With what's gone on [Friday], they deemed it to be intentional, so it's gonna be a little harsher."
In May, NASCAR levied severe penalties to the No. 8 team of Dale Earnhardt Inc. for violations found during pre-race inspection before the Darlington race.
The team was found to have violated Sections 12-4-A (actions detrimental to stock car racing), 12-4-Q (car, car parts, components and/or equipment used do not conform to NASCAR rules), and 20-3.1.3B (the NASCAR-approved upper and lower rear wing mounting brackets must not be modified to obtain a rear-wing angle of less than zero degrees or more than 16 degrees) of the NASCAR rule book.
Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. was fined $100,000, suspended for six weeks and placed on probation until Dec. 31. Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. was penalized 100 driver points and car owner Teresa Earnhardt was penalized 100 points.
"If NASCAR's intentions are to create an equal playing field for everybody with the COT and you step out of line like this you need to get your hands smacked, I guess," driver Kurt Busch said. "DEI did it with their rear spoiler, and now you've got two Hendrick cars that are out of code. They really want this to be a controlled environment with the COT. It'll be interesting to see what happens.
"You lose a little bit of practice time, but it's only an hour and a half [on Friday]. It's not much. It's going to suck with those two cars [Gordon and Johnson] starting in the back because guys up front aren't going to get any TV time."
Sonoma is the first road-course race for the Car of Tomorrow. It's seven previous races were run on oval tracks.
The decision on further penalties against the Hendrick cars would be made next week, Poston said.