News & Media

Helton to look into Menard spin at Richmond

September 16, 2011, Joe Menzer,

JOLIET, Ill. -- Childress emphatic that it wasn't intentional; Harvick said it's a non-story

Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, said he will look into the possibility that something was amiss when Paul Menard brought out a late caution last Saturday night that helped Menard's teammate, Kevin Harvick, win the Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

But Richard Childress, who owns the cars that Menard and Harvick drive for Richard Childress Racing, released a statement Friday that was emphatic in denying that Menard spun his No. 27 Chevrolet intentionally to bring out a caution with 17 laps to go in last Saturday's race. Harvick was running second to Jeff Gordon at the time of the incident, but took the lead by beating Gordon off pit road following the caution and went on to win the race.

'Something fishy'

While Jeff Gordon wasn't formally complaining, he was a little concerned about Paul Menard's spin at Richmond that led to teammate Kevin Harvick's victory.

Gordon stirred the controversy by saying on Thursday that something "seemed a little fishy" about the team radio communications between Menard's team, the driver and RCR competition director Mike Dillon just before the spin, implying that perhaps Menard had been given team orders to do what he could to bring out the caution in an effort to let Harvick catch Gordon. Gordon went on to finish third in the race behind Harvick and second-place finisher Carl Edwards.

"There were no team orders despite all the speculation in the media," Childress said in a statement released by RCR Friday at Chicagoland Speedway. "I know Paul Menard well enough that he wouldn't have spun out on purpose even if he had been asked. We are here at Chicagoland Speedway to win the race and get a great start toward the championship."

Childress said no one from RCR would comment further on the matter, although Harvick did later suggest that perhaps Gordon brought it all up in the first place to try to gain some kind of psychological advantage heading into the opening event in the 10-race Chase.

But Harvick also insisted he's not biting, if that was Gordon's intention.

"He's just voicing an opinion. He's voicing his opinion and I have no problem with that," Harvick said. "There's nothing that needs to be riled up or [to] create a controversy. There's nothing there.

"It's something where people have opinions and I have an opinion, and that isn't anything against Jeff Gordon or anybody involved. He's just asking questions and that's what he should do. ... My job right now is to drive my car as fast as I can drive it, and to keep my head focused on the things they should be focused on -- and not to worry about anything else. I'm going to stay as focused as I can and not let any of the little things bother me."

Helton, meanwhile, spoke earlier in the day with reporters and indicated that it was possible, but probably not likely, that any action would result from further investigation into the Menard matter. He said NASCAR was still gathering all the audio and video information it required to complete a thorough investigation.

"It's a race procedure during a race to react to something like that. I think we have to wait and get our facts straight," Helton said. "But I still think the code of ethics between the drivers on the track is still really, really strong.

"In the rulebook, there is a broad authority given to NASCAR to react to things. I think we all know what would be detrimental to the sport. There is not a specific rule that addresses a team member or a relationship to a team that another driver may have, but there is authority by the league to react to whatever may happen. Those race procedures are unchangeable. I think the biggest thing is to make sure we get the facts right, and understand the environment so we can police it correctly going forward."

Asked to further explain the definition of a "race procedure," Helton added: "The guy causing a caution during an event is a race procedure, like a balls-and-strikes call. You can't go back on Monday and change an out call or a foul-ball call. That's the best way I can explain a race procedure in our world.

"That doesn't mean we can't [come back and levy a penalty]. If it falls under broader actions considered detrimental [to the sport] or something, doesn't mean we can't. But more than likely it's going to be considered a race procedure -- because, I think so far anyway, a lot of it's based on interpretation of what you hear."

Helton and several other drivers also explained that what appeared to happen on the RCR team radio just prior to the Menard caution was not that uncommon. Drivers are permitted during a race to speak with their spotter and crew chief only on an analog channel that also is available to fans and media -- but team members can communicate with each other on a different digital channel that is private.

About five laps prior to Menard's spin Saturday, Dillon had come on the analog channel and asked crew chief Slugger Labbe to "switch to Channel 2."

Five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson said his team will use the digital channel when discussing technical adjustments to his race car during practices; or if the car is parked during some kind of race delay and the engine is shut off, making it legal to do so.

"Those digital radios cannot be in the race car," he said. "From there, I think there are communications during a race where crew chiefs can talk about race strategy and setups. But NASCAR wants fans to have as much as access as possible, and that's why the analog radios are the only ones allowed in the car."

Helton added that Gordon did not come to him after Saturday's race with any complaints. Since then, they've talked -- but not specifically about Saturday's incident, Helton said.

"We discussed the general topic of teammates and how that plays out on the race track," Helton said.

Helton also said he had yet to speak directly to Childress or Menard about the incident under review.

"We talk a lot every weekend about a lot of different things -- but this specific topic, I think we'll wait until we get all our facts right," Helton said. "First of all, I want to wait and hear the audio and not rely on the different levels of individual interpretations that I've heard. I guess you'd have to wait, and then if the interpretation is very blatant, it becomes a factor. Still, really, at this point we want to make sure we get access to all the facts."