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Tire tricks? Nothing new there, but then maybe there is

  The black science of NASCAR -- Tires: the only thing between the car and the asphalt (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Trick tire valve stems?
   Well, more accurately trick tire valve stem caps.
    And the pictures NASCAR posted in its garage hauler of the illegal valve caps confiscated from the Travis Kvapil-Bob Jenkins car at Pocono would seem to be prima facie evidence of deliberately tricked up parts. 
   Certainly NASCAR officials didn't like what they found on that car, and they doled out some very stiff punishment: a 12-week suspension for the crew chief and tire guy, a $100,000 fine, and a 150-point penalty.
    Nevertheless Jenkins, while conceding the parts weren't legal, and he is appealing, insists the situation has been blown out of proportion.
   NASCAR officials may have been more miffed that they missed the tricks before the race – they only discovered what was going on when the car, during the two-hour rain delay, lost air in three of its four tires.
    Jenkins: "If you follow the progression of events, from before the race started, through the rain delay, and afterwards, it is clear that this is a very limited number of valve stem caps, and they were randomly placed.
    "They weren't even put in places on the car that would benefit you.
     "It is funny because the one place you might consider doing that is the left-front tire. And on that set of tires, that was the only one that didn't have one on it.
     "There was even one on an inner liner."
     The trick – the valve stem caps had a very, very tiny hole drilled in them, to allow excessive air to vent as the tires heated up during a run.
    "To the naked eye, there is no discernable difference between those caps and a regular cap," Jenkins said.
    "The biggest thing we have learned is that we have to have quality control.
     "These are not expensive parts.
     "We are ultimately responsible for every single component on that car. That is why I am very reluctant to become a victim in all of this. When we sign that entry blank, it says that we will control our car from start to finish.
     "But there are so many different sources -- whether it is wheel-service or Goodyear, or if you transfer tires in and out from other teams. These caps can just come and go from so many different directions.
    "If someone is looking for a conspiracy theory on how we were intending to cheat, it would be real tough to do. 
     "For example, if you look at it, it was at the very beginning of the race. Why would you want to do it on the very first set of tires and not on subsequent sets of tires? 
    "If we were doing that -- we knew there was a rain delay, so all we would have had to do is close those caps up so they didn’t leak.
     "If you look at all the specifics of it, it just doesn't make sense.
      "But they were still illegal, and they were still on our car. For that we have to be accountable."
    But the penalty, he insists, is excessive.
     "I certainly understand there should be a penalty," Jenkins said. "And as an owner I appreciate that, because I am going to be competing against the rest of these guys next week. 
     "NASCAR has to send a strong signal, because it is an area on the car that could potentially provide a huge competitive advantage.
     "My number one concern is my employees. Their reputations are important.
     "It was obvious to me, and I think to others, that there was no intent.  
     "It is a big fine, and it is a lot of points. For a team battling to stay in the top-35 (to get a guaranteed starting spot), 150 points is pretty excessive. 
     "I understand there should be a fine. But I felt that 12-week suspensions and that level of points are pretty high."
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     Illegal valve stems? Big penalty (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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