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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hendrick's nearly illegal cars shouldn't be a surprise

The big news that came out this week was that the cars of Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson, after being inspected after the Dover weekend, were found to be very close to illegal.

After being inspected at the NASCAR Research and Development Center, series officials found the measurements on Jimmie Johnson’s race-winning car to be closer to the tolerances than normal, in several different areas.

In short, they weren’t illegal, but they were almost there. NASCAR sent the message that the cars should be left back at the shop, as they don’t like it when you are that close to breaking their rules.

Some fans may be shocked to hear this news, wondering why Hendrick would risk such a disaster as a points penalty inside the Chase, but I had a different reaction.

I was not shocked in the slightest, because I know one thing from watching NASCAR for so long: Hendrick Motorsports is not afraid to cheat.

From Ray Evernham to Chad Knaus, there is a track record at Hendrick of cheating, and being punished for it, that goes beyond what other teams have been punished for doing.

Knowing that, there is no surprise to me that it almost happened again.

The Hendrick team has defended itself this week, saying they were not trying to cheat. And in this case, they are correct in saying they didn’t cross the line.

But over the years, the team has been known to exploit what are often called “gray areas” on the car. With the COT, this is much harder to do, though it appears Hendrick is continuing to do his best to try.

For those who might perceive this as a bash, let me say I recognize that Hendrick is not unique in NASCAR history. For example, Smokey Yunick is one of the greatest mechanics and team owners in the history of NASCAR, and I am proud to have met the man before he passed. But he is on record as saying he always did his best to be creative with the car and slip something by NASCAR’s rules, which weren’t as air-tight as they are now back in his day.

This is nothing new to the sport, and I’m sure other teams besides Hendrick may be into some funny business when it comes to “gray areas”.

The main thing that distinguishes Hendrick in this conversation is that it is the top team in NASCAR. When you win championships as often as they do, it’s very important to maintain a sense of legitimacy, so it doesn’t appear the title wasn’t deserved.

Amazingly, despite their owner’s history of cheating, Hendrick is viewed as an on-the-level, trustworthy team by many fans.

The fact is, though, is that it’s not always true, and the latest near-miss with Martin and Johnson’s cars shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.


Anonymous Ryan said...

Drink some Hendrick Hater-Ade lately? Accusing one team, especially in Nascar, of cheating more than the rest is just comical. Every team exhausts all of their resources and options. The title of your article should read; "Sour grapes:Hendrick's Dominance."

October 3, 2009 at 8:11 AM 
Anonymous Prof pi (Jeff Thompson) said...

You don't understand the psychology of engineers, and the psychology of engineers plus racers compounds the effect a hundred fold. A "gray area" in the rules for engineer/racers is catnip to a cat, a red flag to a bull, a voluptuous young lady to a,... you get the idea. It isn't just an opportunity to explore what's possible, but rather a "gray area" in the rules is a test of your whole self-worth. If you don't push a "gray area" to its very limit then you're a complete and total failure as an engineer, a person; in your own eyes you no longer have any value to anyone. You've failed at the very thing you've spent your life trying to do: make every measurable item the best possible one. If a car passes inspection, then by definition it is a "legal" car.
Don't now grouse because the Hendrick team plays the game better than anyone else, challenge the other competitors to put on their thinking caps.

October 3, 2009 at 8:31 AM 

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