Two of the leading NASCAR Sprint Cup organisations, Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing, were finding themselves under uncomfortable spotlights this week after different controversies arising from last week's racing at Talladega Superspeedway.
The Hendrick #48 team was left rebutting accusations that they had been seeking to cheat with illegal specifications on Jimmie Johnson's car, while the Roush team were dealing with the repercussions of Trevor Bayne switching from drafting with Jeff Gordon to backing Matt Kenseth in the final minutes of last Sunday's race, apparently as the result of team orders.
Hendrick's unwelcome media attention arose from in-car radio transmissions from crew chief Chad Knaus to Johnson that appeared to suggest that the driver should purposely damage his car if he won the race, apparently to hide possible set-up violations.
"If we win this race, you have to crack the back of the car. Got it?" Knaus can be heard telling Johnson in audio recorded from an internet feed. "You don't have to have to hit it hard, you don't have to destroy it. But you've gotta do a donut and you've gotta hit the back end, or somebody's gotta hit you in the ass-end or something. OK? ... You'll be alright. Can't take any chances."
Knaus was later quoted as saying that he and the team had not done anything wrong, but were "just being proactive" in case the wear-and-tear of the long restrictor plate race had left the car slightly out of the very fine tolerances allowed by NASCAR, unless there is clear evidence of in-race damage being responsible.
"Chad was trying to protect himself post-race. He made a foolish statement. That's really it at the end of the day," insisted Johnson on Friday, pointing out: "That car passed inspection multiple times throughout the course of the weekend.
"Chad and I certainly respect NASCAR and their inspection process," Johnson added. "You can tell from my reaction [on the recording] it was something I'd never heard in the car from him before. It is what it is."
"There's really nothing there," said NASCAR Sprint Cup director John Darby after a review of the recording and a meeting with the #48 team. "The facts of the matter are, when we inspected the car at the race track, the car was fine."
However, NASCAR is aware that the controversy and suspicion stirred up by the implications of the audio recording meant that Johnson's car was going to face increased scrutiny for the rest of the season to make sure it really was a one-off foolish remark after all.