Jimmie To Keselowski: We Are Not Dirty Rats
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Jimmie Johnson, on behalf of Hendrick Motorsports, pled not guilty Friday to “ratting out” technical illegalities on the part of rival Penske Racing.
“In no way, shape or form,” the five-time champion said, did he or anybody on his team go running to NASCAR officials and tattle about the rear suspension irregularities that resulted this week in massive penalties to the two Penske Cup teams.
Necessitating the plea – which came in response to the first question Johnson was asked during his morning press conference in the infield at Kansas Speedway – was angry insistence this past week on the part of Penske driver Brad Keselowski that somebody at Penske had indeed tattled last weekend in Texas.
The cars of Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano were held up in pre-race inspection at Texas last Saturday. The cars were ordered back to the garages to have rear-end parts replaced.
The trouble did not end there. This week it was announced that Penske’s team had been slammed by series officials. Fines and point deductions rained down. And not just on the drivers. Crew chiefs, car chiefs and even engineers were issued fines and suspensions.
The drivers were docked 25 points. The 25-point penalty dropped Keselowski from second to fourth in the standings.
An enraged, profanity-spitting Keselowski pointed the finger at Hendrick, saying that team had it in for him and his team. He said that a person or people from HMS ran to the NASCAR hauler and alerted officials about what they had seen in the Penske cars in the garages.
At mid morning Friday, Johnson climbed the dais at Kansas, site of Sunday’s STP 450, and out popped The Question.
“No,” Johnson, who arrived at Kansas as the series points leader, said, “the Hendrick group and the No. 48 team did not rat out the Penske cars.”
That said, Johnson stopped way short of saying nobody would ever do such a thing in NASCAR or any other racing series. Spying on thy neighbor, he said, is pro forma.
“The best officiating in the garage area has always been your neighbor,” Johnson said. “That has just been part of NASCAR for years and years. That is why NASCAR has the procedures in place that they do in the garage area and why even in F1 today they are not allowed to cover their stuff anymore. It’s just part of it.”
Johnson said everybody spies. Including, more precisely especially, the Penske teams. He said his folks have observed the Penske folks observing the Hendrick folks.
“Everybody has people watching,” Johnson said. “We have been very impressed with the No. 2 cars staff and their ability to have somebody just stand and watch other teams.”
So this environment of intrigue does take place in the garage area.
And when, um, interesting parts and pieces are observed, there are two options for rival teams. They can snitch to NASCAR, or, they can copy and use the stuff themselves.
Johnson inferred that his folks do the latter. They certainly, he said, do not do the former.
“We don’t say something,” he said. “We are a company built on performance. We are a company that tries to understand the rulebook as close as we can to the law. Sure, we have had our issues with it, but that is racing it has been that way since day one of racing. We go in there and we try to be as smart as we can and conform to the rules and put the best race car on the track. With all that being said, no, sure there was a lot of activity around the Penske cars during the test day, just like all the other cars and everybody is watching, everybody is looking, but in no way shape or form did anybody from the No. 48 car walk into that truck and say anything.”
Team owner Richard Petty, the winningest driver in the history Cup, said that while Hendrick people may not have blew the whistle on Penske, but, somebody did.
”Undoubtedly, someone told them what the Penske crew was doing,” Petty said.
Sympathy for Penske was not particularly high in the garages at Kansas.
For example, when Clint Bowyer of Michael Waltrip Racing was asked about snitching and whether or not his team did it, he had a kurt answer.
“I don’t know,” Bowyer said. “Who cares how you get caught? If you’re cheating, if you’re doing wrong, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing – it’s wrong. You’re going to get caught. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing in life or whether you’re in a sporting event or everyday life, if you cheat you’re eventually going to get caught and we’re seeing a lot of that this week.”
Keselowski spoke to the media following his qualifying run Friday afternoon. Asked about the penalties, the defending Cup champion said he would not have much to say.
“I don’t think I’ve been surprised by much of anything in the last two or three days, but I think it’s really important to allow the appeal process to work its way out on its own,” Keselowski said. “That’s why it exists. I’m thankful that there is a process for appeals because, obviously, we’re in an ‘agree to disagree’ stage between Penske Racing and NASCAR, and there’s, thankfully, a third panel or group to settle those disagreements.”
Keselowski was considerably calmer than he was after Texas but it was evident that he still was not entirely comfortable with what has gone down the last week.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that defining cheating in this sport is something that’s been very poorly done, and I think you all are probably the ones that need to step back and try to figure out how to define that better because, clearly, this garage is having a hard time doing that.”
Asked if the parts that got his team into trouble were approved by NASCAR, he said, “As far as I know, yes.”
With the Kanas race still two days off, the action was already much hotter than the weather Friday in Kansas.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment