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Hendrick and Roush reject controversies

29 October 2011

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.

"The #48 organization knows that from this occurrence that their car could likely be a regular customer at the R&D Center for [more detailed] post-race inspection the balance of this season," confirmed spokesman Kerry Tharp.

Roush Fenway Racing was also feeling uncomfortably in the glare of the media's headlights after Talladega, after the Ford-backed team had appeared to order Trevor Bayne to abandon his agreed drafting alliance with Chevrolet-powered Jeff Gordon in the final minutes of the race and switch instead to back Matt Kenseth.

Although Bayne is an RFR junior driver at Nationwide level, he was racing in the Wood Brothers #21 Ford car in the Talladega Cup race. He had agreed to work with Jeff Gordon at the final restart, but then Matt Kenseth's RFR team mate David Ragan developed a problem and the team were alleged to have issued instructions to Bayne to drop Gordon immediately and switch to support Kenseth for the final laps.

"I'm as upset it turned out that way as anyone," Bayne later posted on Twitter. I'm so sick about all this. I won't race restrictor plate races next year before I'm put in that situation," he continued. "I'm not happy about what this has become... It's too premeditated. We should be able to go with whoever is around is."

But team owner Jack Roush denied that team orders had played any part in what had happened.

"There were no team orders, from myself or anyone at Roush Fenway, given to any of our drivers as to whom they could or could not choose to run with or assist, nor did I give similar directions or suggestion to any of the other Ford drivers," Roush said in a team statement on Tuesday.

"We expect our individual drivers to make decisions that put themselves in the best position to win each and every race," continued Roush. "That is a philosophy that we have lived by for over two decades, and one that we will continue to abide by going forward.

"Of course, as in any team, we would prefer for our drivers to work together when possible. However, to be clear, we did not micromanage or dictate to any of our drivers, nor any other Ford drivers, how to race with other drivers at Talladega last Sunday."

Bayne himself went on a radio interview during the week to clarify his remarks. "We said if a Ford needs us, we're going to help them," he told Sirius XM Radio. "It wasn't like Jack Roush came on the radio and said, 'Hey, go tell Jeff you'll work with him and then leave him.' It was none of that. It was just the fact that with two laps to go with there was a Ford on our bumper and he didn't have a drafting partner.

"At that point, it's a tough decision because I've given Ford my word all week long and then you've got Jeff Gordon in front of you, who you want to work with and who you just talked to about working with and then everything changes in a matter of a lap.

"I was caught in the worst situation I could have ever been in," he added. "At that point, I'm sitting here with a guy in front of me that I knew I had an opportunity to win the race with and he's my childhood hero and he's helped me. And then I've got my team mate behind me that needs me that I committed all week to help. It just happened so fast."

Roush said that he understood that Bayne had been forced to make "a split-second decision ... where it was almost certain that not everyone was going to be satisfied," and that it was all a hard but necessary learning experience in the realities of motor racing for the 20-year-old.

And Jeff Gordon is certainly among those not satisfied with the outcome.

"I unfortunately think it took away an opportunity for Trevor Bayne to win that race by doing that," he pointed out. "If he had stayed in behind me, I think we could have battled those two guys up there for the lead. And then he could have dumped me coming to the line like Clint Bowyer did [to Jeff Burton] and finished ahead of me, and got possibly a win or a very good finish for that team.

"This whole manufacturer thing, they've got to be careful," he warned. "All of us have to be careful of saying 'We cannot work with them,' because you might take away the possibility of you winning the race for your manufacturer by being too strict with those guidelines.

"That's just the way I feel about it."


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