Menard-Gate Brings Up Whispered Questions
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
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.
“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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments