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Menard-Gate Brings Up Whispered Questions

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

Suspicions that Paul Menard followed "team orders" last weekend in Richmond were the talk of the garages Friday at Chicagoland. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

JOLIET, Ill. – You can debate  the worthiness of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s popularity among fans, and you can debate the issue of just how far this acorn fell from its tree. But you can not debate Earnhardt Jr.’s frankness when it comes to answering controversial questions.

That became evident once again on Friday when the subject of Menard-Gate came up during a session with the media at Chicagoland Speedway, site of Sunday’s Chase-opening Geico 400 Sprint Cup race.

One of the first questions put to Earnhardt Jr. concerned the controversy du jour at Chicagoland : The insinuation – first made by Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon,  – that Paul Menard purposely spun his car 15 laps from the  end of last weekend’s race at Richmond in order to bring out a caution flag which helped teammate Kevin Harvick win the race.

Earnhardt Jr. was asked point blank if drivers do those kinds of things.

“We’re all human beings; so, yes,” Earnhardt said. “Things will happen and things do happen and things like that probably do go on. As long as human beings are involved, there will be a certain level of corruption, you know?”

Earnhardt was then asked if he has ever purposely brought out a caution in a race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says intentional spinouts happen. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

“I can’t say that I’ve ever done anything compared to what Jeff was insinuating in his comments,” he said. “But, I’ve tried to help myself out by bringing out a caution so maybe that is about the same thing I guess. I got in trouble though. If you do anything like that, you just can’t admit it.”

Similar questions were put to several other drivers on Thursday.

Ryan Newman, was asked if he had ever intentionally caused a caution.

“That’s putting me on the spot,” Newman said. “But one time I had a tire that went down and the smart thing to do was to spin it out and that benefitted me at the same time but it was the safest thing to do. So, I think everybody has always contemplated it at different times. NASCAR, at places like Richmond, you’ve seen them penalize guys for stopping on the race track; causing the caution, even if they don’t spin out. There’s times when guys spin out and just wait for the caution.

“So, I know the situation you’re talking about and there’s a lot of question about it. But I will definitely say that when you’re having a bad day and the way this sport works with teammates, there are times when you think about it and it’s never the right thing to do.”

Brad Keselowski, another “good quote” driver was asked if he’s ever seen a driver dive into the tank to help a teammate.

“You know every once in a while you see something that’s very blatant, everywhere, every once in a while,” he said.

Keselowski, one of two Chase drivers for Penske Racing, was asked to define blatant.

“What’s blatant? You know,” he said, “that’s a guy like who comes off of pit road, he’s having a

Brad Keselowski says there is a line he will not cross to help a teammate. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

miserable day, he’s three laps down and the leaders catch ‘em and maybe you’re running second and his teammate’s running third and he just doesn’t let you go. That’s fairly blatant. I think those are probably more of what I can see as well and the other things; quite honestly, I’m too focused on my own race to know.

“Well, every once in a while you see ‘em but, I mean, mostly you spend your time focused on your own race and you can’t catch those things because you’re not looking for ‘em. You have to be looking for ‘em sometimes.”

Keselowski also seemed to agree with NASCAR president Mike Helton who, on Friday, said that the biggest thing standing between drivers and taking dives is their professional ethics.

“Well I think the line, since it’s not defined by the sport, is defined by the people that participate in it. And for me, there’s certainly a line of what I’d be willing to do to help Kurt [Busch, teammate]. I will do what I can to help ‘em if the situation arises where things are bleak for myself and it’s advantageous to help Kurt. But there’s certainly a line and a code that each and every driver walks that, you know quite frankly, might be different between each and every driver. And that’s a tough question to answer for everybody else.”

Jimmie Johnson, on the other hand, said he has not resorted to intentionally bringing out a caution to help another driver.

“I have not been a part of any of that. I have not spun out; I guess that is what the allegation is. I have not done anything like that for a teammate. On plate tracks you can help teammates, other tracks it is real difficult. The only thing you can do is be difficult to pass is about it.”

Kyle Busch said that if NASCAR does catch something like Menard is being unofficially charged with, there should be penalties.

“I don’t know what happened or what has transpired over the last few days with the Menard incident,” Busch, whom Harvick tied for the series points lead as a result of the Richmond outcome, said. “All we can rely on is NASCAR and what NASCAR can do in governing their sport. Certainly there may be some tactics that aren’t necessarily fair or what have you.

“But certainly NASCAR needs to govern them and make it that way. It’s not fair to the rest of the competition to play tricks like that, I don’t feel like you know. I don’t know whether they were or they weren’t, I’m not saying there was – my point is that if it’s something that NASCAR can investigate and police, then they need to. That’s not the way we race.”

Oh, and Menard? He and his team deny that he tanked it on purpose at Richmond.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 16 2011
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Brian from NY says:

    The issue I have is that it seems that everybody is treating this like it wasn’t a big deal. The fact is that the caution more then likely cost Gordon the win. This is not a question of team tactics, but a example of conspiracy to alter the outcome of a race. A perfect example of this is what happened with Renault F1 back in 2008. They ordered one of their drivers (Nelson Piquit Jr) to wreck in order to bring out a safety car (this benifited his team mate Alonso who pitted early and cycled to the front when everybody pitted). Alonso went on to win the race, but the FIA found out and punished the team severly. The team manager was banned for life, the lead engineer for five years, and the team was on probation for two years with the threat of a lifetime ban as well. I doubt NASCAR will do anything about it even if the report is true. Cheating is the American way.

  • Keith says:

    Nascar should really do everything they can to eliminate teammate advantages at the track it is very unfair to single car teams. Let them do what they want away from the track you can’t police it but at the track there should be no radio contact from drivers on the track with each other or no swapping of crews and no helping each other rebuild wrecked cars in the garage or on pit road and no allowing each other to lead a lap for bonus points. If they get caught sharing setups they both should start in the rear of the field. But nothing will be done about it because all the fan favorites have teammates.

  • Sue Rarick says:

    There is a saying that if it walks, talks and acts like a duck…your probably looking at a duck.

    For Nascar’s credibility they have to investigate the Menard issue.

    The audio certainly sounds like there was something going on. And Nascar has to review channel 2 talk. Hopefully they used an analog channel 2 otherwise that brings up more issues of them using unauthorised digital radios.

    The way RCR has acted this year certainly makes what Menard is suspected of doing more likely. They certainly haven’t helped their cause.