CHICAGO - Several drivers and teams questioned last week’s late race spin by Paul Menard at Richmond International Raceway that led to a caution flag eventually benefitting Richard Childresss Racing teammate and eventual race winner Kevin Harvick.
Menard’s spin with 16 laps remaining put the race under caution with Jeff Gordon leading and Harvick second. But on what turned out to be the night’s final round of pit stops, Harvick beat Gordon off pit road and was able to maintain the top spot the rest of the way to the checkered flag.
The incident has brought to light the possibility of multi-car operations giving “team orders” at certain points of an event to assist drivers inside the organization and Gordon believes Saturday may be an example.
“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,’’ Gordon said at Thursday’s Chase Media Day event in Chicago. “… 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.’’
When informed of Gordon’s view, Harvick responded by pointing his finger at Hendrick Motorsports.
“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,’’ Harvick said, referring to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s multitude of issues and trips to pit road during the Richmond race. “ 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.”
Gordon says those allegations are false and that the Hendrick group does not operate in that manner.
“We're not known for team orders, and primarily where it helps in deciding races,’’ Gordon said. “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's never been team orders.
“If I am a teammate, to someone that's going for the championship, I would make it a little more challenging for if it comes down for the championship, to a certain degree. I am always one that says let the race be decided the way it needs to be decided. If I treat somebody that way, then I expect in the opposite situation, they would treat me in the same way. So I always try to race people the way I want them to race me and if the championship is going to get decided based on whether I held someone up, would I do it? You know, to a certain degree, yes.”
NASCAR has not launched any investigation into the incident at Richmond.
"We haven't seen or heard anything that would indicate the No. 27 did anything inappropriate in Richmond," NASCAR spokesman Kerry 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."
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