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Talladega shenanigans: the darker side of NASCAR racing...

   Tony Stewart sounds off on dirty tricks and political games and Team Orders at Talladega (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Did Talladega fans get robbed?
   Certainly looks like they got jobbed.
   Tony Stewart had a great shot to win the Talladega 500, but…

   Jeff Gordon likewise had a great shot to win the 500, but….
   And if Jimmie Johnson had won the 500, well, just what tricks was crew chief Chad Knaus apparently trying to hide from NASCAR?
   What the heck is going on here?
   Blame Ford-Chevy politics…blame Team Orders….blame championship games…blame whoever -- but it might be time for NASCAR president Mike Helton to weigh in on all the shenanigans and stand up for the credibility of this sport, which has taken several mean licks the last few days.
   It seems like everyone in the sport has already weighed in, except for the sport's top executives….
   The aftermath of Sunday's race hasn't been pretty for the sport of NASCAR racing, with a lot of charges and denials flying back and forth.
   Even in a sport where politics and under-the-table dealings and secret penalties and hidden pacts are just part of the game, all those things that really went on behind the scenes at Talladega last weekend – or apparently went on – have put this sport in a sordid new light.
   Call it the darker side of NASCAR racing…..



Paul Menard (27) pushing Tony Stewart (14) at Talladega Sunday. And what happened at the finish? (Photo:
Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Stewart, the sport's two-time champion, and still in the running for a third NASCAR title, was incensed about the politics surrounding the Talladega race:
   "I've never seen more politics in a race go on in my life than what I saw this weekend.
   "I think the car owners are to blame, the manufacturers are to blame.  And the fans don't deserve that."

   First, the seeming shenanigans in the Ford camp, with what looks for all the world like Team Orders, which first came to light last Friday when Chevy's Stewart said his plans to draft with Ford's David Gilliland would have to be scrapped.
   "I've kind of heard the Ford guys are kind of being told they have to stay with Ford guys," Stewart said last Friday. "So we're not sure exactly who we are going to run with on Sunday yet.
   "We thought we had a plan, and then it sounded like it got dismantled."
   Stewart had a car easily strong enough to win the race. And on the final green-white-checkered restart to the 3-1/2-hour race, Stewart figured he had a shot to win. He's led much of the race, and he had fellow Chevy driver Paul Menard behind him pushing at the the green.
   But Menard's own Richard Childress teammates, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer, were up front too for the restart.
   And it appeared that Menard separated from pushing Stewart going into the first turn, letting Burton and Bowyer get a big lead. Bowyer went on to edge Burton for the win.
   Here's the video of the final minutes of the Talladega 500:  http://bit.ly/tlYM1k



Trevor Bayne (21) pushing Jeff Gordon (24) in the Daytona 500. So what happened at Talladega? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Childress denied any Team Orders on his part in the Menard-Stewart situation, denied telling Menard to back off and not push Stewart:
   "No. All the teams know they're supposed to come here and try to win the race, never wreck each other.  They know that.
   "I went on Paul's radio and told him go up there and push Tony and try to win the race. 
     "I wanted him to win the race but I also wanted him to push Tony. 
    "If he came down to the end, he would have tried to make a move like Clint did on Jeff."
    However Childress did point out that situation was Chevy-versus-Chevy, and he wouldn't have been interested in his drivers helping any Ford drivers in such a situation: "We were going to help Chevy try to win.  I've been Chevy all my life.  We've been GM for 40 some years, I think 45 years now.  It's kind of hard to change an old dog."

     And why did crew chief Chad Knaus (R) tell Jimmie Johnson to wreck his car if he won the Talladega 500? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    That wasn't the only late-race controversy.
    The celebrated flap between Chevy's Gordon and Ford's Trevor Bayne in the final miles of the 500 has echoed throughout the sport.
   Gordon had radioed Bayne about hooking up for the two-lap finishing sprint and Bayne said yes. Remember at Daytona in February Gordon had teamed up with the then little-known Bayne and helped Bayne throughout Speedweeks. And Bayne, with that Jeff Gordon Seal of Approval, went on to win the Daytona 500.
   But moments after the last green flag at Talladega, Bayne dumped Gordon. And it was none too subtle.
   Gordon fans were incensed, and Bayne heard the wrath.
   After the race Bayne went over to Gordon to apologize and to blame 'Team Orders.'
   Gordon's take: "Politics play out sometimes. He feels terrible about it. Listen, at that point you work with anybody that you can when you lose your partner then you’re desperate to find somebody. I was going to go with the No. 13 but Trevor lined up behind me and when he agreed to it and I said hey, we can’t go with a better person than that. He’s got a fast race car; we already have history of working well together and I thought it was a no-brainer. But I probably should have known better."
    "…The Fords made it very clear about what they were doing in working with one another and helping one another out."
   Bayne himself was angry about the situation, and he said he had been 'strong-armed' into dumping Gordon, apparently to try to hook up quickly with Matt Kenseth, whose own partner, David Ragan, had broken on the restart. Bayne said he would rather finish last than to have to dump someone like that.
   As the furor grew in the days following the race, Ford officials issued a number of press releases denying any 'Team Orders.'
   And Bayne himself appeared to back off his 'strong-armed' claims.
   And now come questions about why Johnson's crew chief Knaus had told Johnson, just moments before the start of the 500, that if he won, he would have to wreck his car before NASCAR's post-race inspection.
   According to pre-race recordings between the two while Johnson was in the car, heard live nation-wide, Knaus told Johnson "If we win this race, you have to 'crack' the back of the car. Got it?"
   To which Johnson says "Really?"
   To which Knaus replies "Yes you don't have to have to hit it hard, you don't have to destroy it. But you've got to do a doughnut, and you've got to hit the back end…or somebody's got to hit you in the ass-end or something. Okay?
   "You'll be alright. Can't take any chances."
   Knaus in his defense says he was just trying to be proactive about any post-race issues NASCAR might have.




David Ragan: Sponsor is moving on, and where will Ragan race in 2012? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)






   Good news for team owner Jack Roush….sort of.
   Long-time sponsor UPS will remain a Roush sponsor, though not nearly at the level of support it's had the past several years.
   UPS hasn't really had that much success with David Ragan, and that comes after a couple of not-so-success seasons with Dale Jarrett and Michael Waltrip.
   So UPS has moved a large part of its sports sponsorship money to college football.
   Still UPS is keeping a presence in NASCAR, as one of the sport's 'official' sponsors, for which it pays money to the Daytona sanctioning body.
   And UPS will remain what it calls an "associate" sponsor with Roush, albeit on Carl Edwards' car, not Ragan's.
   Where Ragan winds up next season, thus, is still up in the air.
   UPS officials call the change from NASCAR to college football "a strategic business decision that allows us to focus on the elements that drive the best return on our investment, including continuing our relationship with Roush Fenway Racing.
    "We are always evaluating ways to refine and enhance all of our sponsorship programs to ensure they are aligned with our business strategy and objectives.


     Chevy team owner Richard Childress (L) and Paul Menard. Team Orders at Talladega? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR) 

If that was a Roush crew

If that was a Roush crew chief that said that, Nascar would have penalized them for 'hurting or actions detremental to Nascar!

Lets see what happens this time, this is really a big story, can see all the Hendrick coverup now, talk about team orders!!!!!

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i think this chad knaus story

i think this chad knaus story is way bigger than any of the coverup stories started after the race, you just have to think about a crew chief and five time champion having that conversation before the race. it puts five championships in guestion. i mean how many other times has chad said something similar when no mics were on in the car. and like cwjh said if a ford crew chief had said that nascar would have ordered all ford teams to turn over their talladega cars that morning, no guestion about it.

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