BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Crew chief Chad Knaus returned to the track Friday after a four-week suspension, greeted by a cold rain that washed out all activity at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I’m ready to get the car out there,” he said, sipping coffee. “It’s been a long time.”

NASCAR suspended Knaus for the season’s first four races after finding improper changes to Jimmie Johnson’s car during Daytona 500 preparations. He had to watch Johnson win the Super Bowl of racing on TV.

“The Daytona 500 was tough, tough, tough,” he said. “I am not going to lie to you, I had a tear in my eye.”

It didn’t get any easier as Johnson went on to finish second the next week in California, win another race at Las Vegas, then finish sixth last week in Atlanta to take a 50-point lead in the standings.

The Hendrick Motorsports team that Knaus built from the ground up was thriving without him, and there was nothing he could do to join the party.

“When you are sitting there on the couch and you are listening to ‘Track Pass,’ you are hearing the drivers saying this and drivers saying that, you just jump up and down and say out loud ‘Pull some air pressure out of there!’ “ Knaus said. “You just want to say something to somebody, but there is no one there to listen.

“Man, it was tough. But it is what I had to deal with.”

His candor and emotion Friday was a clear shift from his unrepentant attitude a month ago when Hendrick had him publicly discuss the suspension during a national conference call. He deflected several opportunities that day to take responsibility for Johnson’s car failing an inspection.

“There’s a lot of things out there that can be called intentional,” he said that day. “The fact of the matter is when NASCAR went back it didn’t fit the templates. How that happens is pretty irrelevant.”

Given a chance again to admit culpability, Knaus had clearly softened.

“If it doesn’t fit the template at any point in time, it is wrong,” Knaus said. “It is wrong. I hate that. I regret that. Sometimes you just push too hard. There are procedures that you follow in our industry, as a competitor you try to evolve with that and try to find an advantage on your competition.

“That is what I did and they didn’t like it. So I watched on TV for a while and read the papers.”

It’s unclear what effect his return will have on the team. Lead engineer Darian Grubb did a remarkable job filling in for Knaus, and there’s been speculation Knaus’ return might disrupt the momentum.

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