Jeff Gordon Lurking
Jeff Gordon Lurking
CHICAGO — Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon says there is something “fishy” about Saturday night’s final caution at Richmond International Raceway that opened the door for Kevin Harvick to win.
Gordon implied after the race that Paul Menard, Harvick’s teammate at Richard Childress Racing, spun out intentionally with 16 laps to go to bring out the caution.
Harvick then beat Gordon off pit road and maintained the lead after the final restart with 12 laps remaining. He went on to earn his fourth race win of the season, denying Gordon a fourth win that would have him tied with Kyle Busch for the points lead heading into Sunday’s Chase for the Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speedway.
[Menard] might have just lost it off of turn four 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.
” — Jeff Gordon
Gordon, having since been told of Menard’s radio communication, did not back down from his position on Thursday in Chicago as the 12 Chase drivers gathered at a downtown club for a news conference. He also has addressed it with NASCAR president Mike Helton.
Gordon said from what he’s been told of the radio communications between Menard, crew chief Slugger Labbe and RCR executive Mike Dillon there is reason to believe the spinout was orchestrated on a second channel.
“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. “I think after I passed them and 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.”
“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,” Gordon said.
“But I don’t want to blame him for any of that if it’s not true. He might have just lost it off of turn four and 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.”
NASCAR released a statement Thursday saying officials did not see any wrongdoing during the race.
“We haven’t seen or heard anything that would indicate the No. 27 did anything inappropriate in Richmond,” NASCAR 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.”
After the race, the following entry appeared on the Twitter page of T.J. Majors, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s spotter: “Pretty disappointed if I saw what I think I saw to bring out last caution. Will have to see replay.”
Harvick said he asked officials within RCR about the incident after accusations began flying and was told the right rear tire on Menard’s car was “down to the cords.”
“There were no team orders despite all the speculation in the media,” Richard Childress, owner of RCR, said Friday. “I know Paul Menard well enough that he wouldn’t have spun out on purpose even if he had been asked.”
Menard said on the radio the tire was going down with 17 laps to go.
“Obviously, when a situation like that happens, that’s going to be the first thing that people migrate to,” Harvick said of Gordon’s accusation of team orders. “That’s really all I know about the whole thing. … I asked what the deal was and that was the answer I received.”
Harvick said he wasn’t upset about the allegations.
“They can come over and look at the trophy if they want,” he jokingly said. “There’s 10 times during the race that 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 in the lead lap and get in the Chase.”
Responded Gordon, “When has that ever happened? We’ve never done anything to try to get Junior on the lead lap, if he was down a lap, to my knowledge.”
The controversy led to several drivers speculating on whether team orders would be a factor in the 10-race Chase.
“It always comes up,” Harvick said. “It came up last year with myself and Kyle (Busch), I felt like he was doing what he had to do and Mark (Martin) was doing what he had to do to help Jimmie (Johnson).
“Guys, you feel like they race you different than they have all year just because of their teammates racing for the championship. It’s not going to be anything different this year. … It’s always going to be a constant debate of the way it all goes down and who it is. You could argue it over every year.”
Carl Edwards agreed.
“I think any team would … do whatever they have to do that’s best for their team,” he said. “You might see more of that stuff happen. If there’s an opportunity to get an advantage, I’m sure people would do it.”
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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