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NASCAR To Look Into “Fishy” Finish At Richmond

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 16 2011

Kevin Harvick burns up his tires after winning at Richmond last weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

JOLIET, Ill. – NASCAR president Mike Helton said Friday at Chicagoland Speedway that series officials will be looking into what has been called a “fishy” finish at last weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.

Prompting the investigation by NASCAR was a spin by Richard Childress Racing driver Paul Menard late in the Richmond race. The spin occurred with 15 laps to go and brought out a caution. Jeff Gordon was leading at the time and Menard’s teammate, Kevin Harvick, was second.

Harvick took the lead coming out of the pits and went on to win the race. In getting the victory, Harvick collected 10 Chase bonus points.

Gordon, who was denied the victory and the bonus points, said afterward that he found it “fishy” that Menard spun at the time he did. Gordon also said radio chatter between Menard and his pit crew was curious as well.

“In light of the suspicions,” Helton said, “we’re going to look into it and see if there is anything.”

Helton said officials will review RCR two-way-readio audio and video from the final laps but that as of Friday morning, there are no plans to talk to Childress or Menard specfically about the incident this weekend.

In a statement released by RCR on Friday, Childress said:

“There were no team orders despite all the speculation in the media. I know Paul Menard well enough that he wouldn’t have spun out on purpose even if he had been asked. We are at Chicagoland Speedway to win the race and get a great start toward the championship.”

The statement closed with: “There will be no further statements from RCR about the issue.”
Harvick, who will start Sunday’s Chase-opening Geico 400 tied with Kyle Busch for the points lead, said he thinks there was zero hanky-panky involved with Menard’s spin. He also said that Gordon could also be accused of benefiting from something akin to team orders.
“Does Jeff Gordon ever catch me if the 51 car (of Landon Cassill), which is a Hendrick car and has a lot of Hendrick support, does he ever catch me if he doesn’t sit there and block and ride and spin out twice during the race?” Harvick said Friday. ” There’s a lot of things that we could debate and Jeff’s just debating the things that he’s been told.  There’s no message, there’s no anything.”

Menard was about 80 laps off the pace at Richmond when he radioed to his team that he thought he had a tire going down. Jeff Gordon was leading at the time. He did not come into the pits. With about 15 laps to go, he softly spun into the infield and the yellow flag waved.

On Thursday, NASCAR issued a statement saying they saw nothing wrong with Menard’s actions.

“We haven’t seen or heard anything that would indicate the No. 27 (Menard) did anything inappropriate in Richmond,” NASCAR said in the statement. “We watch closely the activity in each event all season long to maintain a fair and even event for all competitors. We naturally will do the same for the balance of the season.”

Helton said that NASCAR officials saw nothing out of the ordinary at the time of the incident. But, he said, an investigation has been launched.

“We’ve seen in the past, accuations, suspicions that spool up and I think it’s on all of our shoulders to get the facts right,” Helton said. “If there is something there, then we should find out about it and make sure we got it right.

“But it is a sport, and these guys are athletes and they know how to work the situation.”

Helton said there are no specific rules against “team orders”, but there are rules against actions detrimental to the the sport and that if it is determined that Menard did manipulate the outcome of the Richmond race, there will be consequences.

“I think we would deem that (purposely spinning to bring out a caution) detrimental,” Helton said. “There is authority to react to it.”

The investigation will revolve around the RCR two-way radio conversations.

During those conversations, Menard and his crew talk about needing a caution. They then decide to turn to a different radio channel to discus the situation.

NASCAR records all team communications that take place on analog channels.

Helton said that all conversations between team and driver during the race are required to be on analog channels because digital signals are tougher to monitor.

(This story will be updated shortly)

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 16 2011
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