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Crew chief Alan Gustafson "disappointed" in controversy; Jimmie Johnson bristles at the questions

   Alan Gustafson, standing behind car owner Rick Hendrick and driver Mark Martin, after winning at Chicago in July. The team has won more races this season than any other. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   KANSAS CITY, Kansas
   Alan Gustafson -- the man in the middle of the latest NASCAR rules controversy, with his Sprint Cup-leading car suddenly being questioned by NASCAR and then by rivals after an extensive post-Dover inspection by NASCAR -- is not happy at the moment.
   In fact, he's a bit upset at any negative implications about his team and his driver, Mark Martin.
   "I am disappointed…that I'm in this position, for whatever reason…and I'm disappointed it may detract from what our hard work has achieved," Gustafson said Friday morning in the Kansas Speedway garage.
   "I don't want anybody to have a bad opinion of me or of what we do. But I can't control that. You're judged off the decisions you make and the character you show in adverse situations. And I think my character speaks for itself."
    Of course Gustafson isn't in this deal alone; his team is partnered with the Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus operation…and crew chief Knaus has been hit hard several times by NASCAR for pushing the rules too far, even to the point of lengthy suspensions.
   Gustafson, though, has rarely been penalized by NASCAR for violations; most recently in 2005, with a minor $1,000 fine for an unapproved side window at Talladega. Gustafson was also suspended two weeks and fined $25,000 and docked 25 points when Kyle Busch's second-place car was too high in the post-race inspection at Las Vegas in 2005.
    Johnson himself bristled at the whispers of 'cheating.'
   "We weren't cheating," Johnson said. "The cars were not found illegal. And it's not unusual for cars to stick around at the R&D center.
   "Believe me, if they were illegal, they wouldn't have been released.
   "I hate it's drawing concern.
   "I hope that people are concerned about non-issues, which is what this is, a non-issue.
    "I don't build the race cars; I just drive them. The car passed tech. Pay attention to that.
   "And I'm not aware of this (for Kansas) car being changed at all (because of NASCAR's Dover concerns) from what they would be."
   As strong as the Rick Hendrick teams have run this season, yes, there are political overtones to the controversy, Gustafson concedes, particularly since he and Martin are atop the NASCAR standings and won the playoff opener at Loudon, N.H., and finished second in the second chase race at Dover, Del., Sunday.
    "Yes, I know it 'makes a good story,'" Gustafson said slowly.
   "But here's how I feel about it all – My team, my guys have worked very, very hard to get in this position, and they've had an excellent year, and it's something they should be very, very proud of.
   "And is this going to be something that somebody can write a story about and say 'this is why we've run good?' Yes, and we know that, and we know that anybody can spin this any way they want to.
   "And to me that's the unfortunate part of this. I don't want this to take away from what these guys have accomplished and what Mark Martin has accomplished.
   "None of us wants to get in trouble. But it's part of this job; you do everything you can. Sometimes you get too close for comfortable…and obviously that's something we did for NASCAR. And we've got to make sure we don't get in that position again.
   "But by no ways is it cheating, and by no ways has it led to the performance of this team.
   "Our car has been post-race inspected this year more than anyone else in the series….this was the sixth time.
   "This time some of the body dimensions were within tolerance but to the edge of the tolerance, to the point where they were uncomfortable with it, and so we're uncomfortable with it.
   "They were not comfortable with where we were at."
   Ironically perhaps NASCAR's car-of-tomorrow was specifically designed to have virtually no gray areas in body template measures; it is the most tightly regulated race car in NASCAR history, with a multitude of templates, and requirements to have each car tightly inspected – with three-dimensional laser checkpoints -- at the Concord R&D center before even being allowed to go to a track to race.
    Now, apparently, there are some gray areas.
   "Yes, there are very tight tolerances….but this is sheet metal and bondo," Gustafson said. "And they are talking about thousandths of an inch.
   "The amount we're talking, we can't quantify, even with all the tools we have.
   "NASCAR does a good job of understanding these things are sheet metal and bondo and paint, and raced."



Call it a "show caution" for

Call it a "show caution" for the Chase. If JJ and Mark get too much of a points lead, this chase could become real boring real fast. And NASCAR can't let that happen, it would sink TV ratings even further. NASCAR won't let this all happen. They have too many tricks. You just saw one.

Bristle all you want, Johnson

Bristle all you want, Johnson - you got caught and were allowed to skate.

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