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Is Ford finally back on track? NASCAR’s Mike Helton says he’ll be investigating Jeff Gordon’s Richmond complaints. NASCAR president Mike Helton cautions against a rush to judgment on Jeff Gordon’s complaint that Paul Menard’s caution-spin late in Saturday night’s Richmond 400 might have been planned under ‘team orders,’ to give Kevin Harvick, Menard’s teammate, a better chance to win. Gordon was leading late at Richmond, the final race of the 26-race regular season, when Menard spun, apparently because of a flat tire. That brought out the caution, teams pitted, Harvick won the race off pit road and went on to win the 400. Gordon, citing what he called ‘suspicious’ radio chatter involving Menard and the Richard Childress operation just before the yellow, said he felt that caution might have been deliberately caused.
It is not merely an academic situation, since all regular season victories give title chase drivers bonus points toward the Sprint Cup championship. Obviously Harvick, not Gordon, got those points. Gordon’s complaints have caused quite a stir in the Childress haulers, and it’s looking like two of this sport’s most powerful operations — Childress’ and Rick Hendrick’s — may be going to war. During the course of the race, and us officiating, we saw no evidence of anything out of the ordinary that we would have to react to. In light of the suspicions, we’ll look into it, and see if there is anything. A lot of it is interpretation.
But it is certainly upon us to understand exactly what we can find, the facts. Helton played around what might be done now if he and his officials were to find something had in fact been amiss at Richmond. I would remind everyone that something like that is a ‘race procedure. It doesn’t mean that we would necessarily find something after the race and react to it. One issue that Gordon pointed to, in his suspicions, was an apparent radio reference at Richmond prior to the caution between Menard and his team about ‘going to channel 2,’ as if that were some secret channel that no one, including NASCAR, could hear. NASCAR generally insists that all radio talk between the driver and anyone else on his team be readily available on a public ‘analog’ channel that cannot be scrambled.
The rulebook calls for analog channels to be used for all communications between the crew chief, driver and spotter,” Helton said. And teams can talk among themselves on digital channels, about strategy or whatever, but the communication between the crew chief and spotter and driver has to be on analog. I have not heard that yet,” Helton said. Gordon Saturday night, moments after the race, raised his suspicions in post-race comments with the media.
But Helton said he himself had not yet heard anything directly from Gordon. Gordon raised the public profile of the debate by taking it to the Chicago media in a major Thursday championship interview session with all 12 playoff drivers downtown. Helton, though, did not complain himself about Gordon using such a public forum to raise the heat of the debate. Harvick himself said he had no problem with Gordon voicing his opinions. And he appeared to downplay the controversy. I’m going to stay as focused as I can,” Harvick said.
You have to pick and chose your battles, and you’ve got to be smart. Menard himself and the rest of the Richard Childress men have been told by Childress not to talk about the Richmond any more. But those guys appear to be hot about Gordon’s complaints. And it’s on all of our shoulders to get all the facts right. And if there is something there, we need to find out about it and get it right. But this is a sport and these are athletes, and they know how to work the situation. Helton said he would be looking at both video and audio related to the Richmond issue.
Any dirty tricks in these championship playbooks? Having a driver deliberately bring out a caution to help another driver is, of course, not unusual in racing. I do believe there is a code of ethics among drivers, that is alive and well and very strong,” Helton said. So I’m not necessarily overwhelmed by the chatter so far. But I still think the code of ethics among drivers is very strong. Might Gordon’s public gripe be something of a ‘preemptive’ strike against a title rival organization, in light of complaints over the years that his own teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. NASCAR when he’s about to go a lap down?