I thought he might have spun it out on purpose too. Here’s the story.
By Joe Menzer, NASCAR.COM
September 15, 2011 8:07 PM, EDT
What would the Chase for the Sprint Cup be without a little controversy at the outset to spice it up?
That occurred Thursday when, during the Chase Media Day events at downtown Chicago restaurant, Jeff Gordon wondered aloud if the late-race caution caused when driver Paul Menard spun his No. 27 Chevrolet last Saturday night at Richmond was intentional.
Menard’s spin with 17 laps to go in the Wonderful Pistachios 400 came while Gordon was in the lead, with Menard’s teammate at Richard Childress Racing, Kevin Harvick, in hot pursuit. Harvick subsequently beat Gordon off pit road and went on to win the race, while Gordon had to settle for a third-place finish behind Harvick and second-place finisher Carl Edwards.
“Here’s what I am going to say about it: You do whatever you can as a team to win, win races, win championships, and if any of that is true of what’s being speculated right now, all I have can say is I’ve lost a lot of respect for Paul Menard if that’s the case. But I don’t want to blame him for any of that if it’s not true,” Gordon said.”
“He might have just lost it off of Turn 4 and the caution came out. But when you listen to the radio, and I’ve had other people translate it to me, it sounds a little fishy.”
On the audio channel able to be monitored by fans, media and even other teams, Menard’s spotter, Stevie Reeves, came on with 23 laps to go and began giving Menard detailed updates on where the cars of Gordon and Harvick were as they battled for position on the track.
With 22 to go, RCR competition director Mike Dillon came on the radio and asked Menard’s crew chief, Slugger Labbe, to switch the radio “to Channel 2” which was not able to be monitored by the masses.
With 17 to go, Menard said on the main radio channel that he thought he had a right rear tire going down and Labbe told him to back off if he needed to. Shortly thereafter, Menard spun — bringing out the caution.
“What I heard was something about some communication about needing a caution, not needing a caution, and then they were giving the gaps between me and the 29 car, the distance as I closed in,” Gordon said. “And I think after I passed them, they said something and Paul asked, ‘Do you need the caution? Don’t need the caution?’ Then they said ‘Go to Channel 2,’ — and then they spun out.
“I would love to hear Channel 2.”
Harvick, meanwhile, insisted there were no shenanigans going on involving Menard. He also suggested Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates were possibly involved in some of their own in an effort to ensure that Dale Earnhardt Jr. made the Chase.
“All I can tell you is that I wish I could have brought the right rear tire from the car. It was basically down to the cords. You know when you see something like that happen what everybody is going to say,” Harvick said. “Sitting from my seat, it looks like everybody is spinning everybody out just to keep Dale Jr. on the lead lap. We could just go on and on with this battle all day long.
“There were 10 times during the race where you could say that the Hendrick cars were spinning people out or doing what they had to do to keep Dale Jr. on the lead lap. You could make the same allegations throughout the whole race that they were trying to help him do the same thing — stay on the lead lap and get in the Chase.”
Earnhardt fell one lap down early in last Saturday’s race, but rallied to finish 16th. He needed to finish 20th or better — regardless of what anyone else did — to clinch a position in the 12-driver Chase. He ended up qualifying by finishing 10th in the regular-season standings.
But Gordon said he didn’t understand what Harvick was talking about regarding Earnhardt.
“When has that ever happened?” Gordon asked. “We’ve never done anything to try to get Junior on the lead lap, if he was down a lap, to my knowledge.”
Gordon also said he understands trying to help a teammate out, but insisted that there are limits to it.
“I do believe that as a team we do what we can, but I wouldn’t go that far,” the four-time Cup champion said. “I’ve never asked for anything like that out of a teammate. But I’ve certainly asked for plenty of things that probably can be questionable. You want to do whatever it takes to win a championship and you want to utilize your teammates, so we’ll see.
“All I feel like is I know NASCAR doesn’t want races and championships to be decided in that form and I put my faith in them that they’ll try to control those situations. We’re not known for team orders, and primarily where it helps in deciding races. We’ll do everything in our power to make our cars better, perform at a high level and be competitive and win races and championships, but there have never been team orders [to intentionally bring out a caution].”
NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said Thursday that the league found no wrongdoing by Menard or his team.
“We haven’t seen or heard anything that would indicate the No. 27 did anything inappropriate in Richmond,” Tharp said. “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.”
Harvick insisted the incident was much ado about nothing.
“The 51 [of driver Landon Cassill, whose car had a Hendrick-built engine and chassis] raced all day long and had me pinned down to the bottom to let the 24 try and catch up,” he said. “I mean, we could argue this point for many moons.”
Driver Tony Stewart said he hoped nothing was amiss in the way the final laps went down at Richmond.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t even want to think about it,” Stewart said. “I don’t even want to think about it happening because I pride myself on racing the guys and everybody racing everybody fair. I hope we never have to worry about that.”
I think it is definately possible that Mr. Menard could have spun his car to get Harvick another shot at the win, but then again, sometimes he just spins out for no reason at all.