Richmond Controversy

A Chronological Account of the Events Surrouding the Chevrolet 400

Saturday, September 9 - The Race
Jeff Gordon came on strong in the closing laps to win the Chevrolet 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Gordon passed Jeff Burton with 14 laps remaining and held off a late race charge by Dale Earnhardt to win his biggest race of the year.
The car that Gordon drove to victory had never seen competition during a NASCAR event having only been tested earlier this year at Indianapolis and Richmond. Gordon started 13th and remained there for several laps after the green flag waved. He made a move around Tony Stewart only to lose the position a few laps later. After Michael Waltrip wrecked in turn one, pit stops were made. Gordon came out in 9th. He would remain in the top 10 for the remainder of the evening. On the restart he passed Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin to move into 7th.
The complexion of the race soon changed as Rusty Wallace, who had been leading a number of laps, dropped a cylinder on his Miller Lite Ford. Wallace would limp around the track for the balance of the night before his engine blew. Another caution waved when Brett Bodine and Jimmy Spencer got together for the second consecutive week. Gordon came onto pit road in 6th and left in 5th, yet another strong, but quiet, effort from the Rainbow Warriors.
After Wallace's problems, Steve Park took control of the event. Park lapped up to 12th place during a long green flag run. Gordon passed Burton on lap 258 to take over fourth. During green flag pit stops, a problem on the right rear brought the pit time to over 19 seconds. However, the slight delay didn't hinder Gordon's on-track efforts as he passed Tony Stewart to move into the runner up spot on lap 305. Stewart quickly passed Gordon on lap 308 to move back into 2nd. Shortly after that, Rusty Wallace's engine expired and caution once again slowed the field.
Races are won and lost on pit road. In crunch time, Gordon's Rainbow Warriors came through. He came onto pit road in 3rd and left in 2nd after a 15.5 second pit stop. On the restart, he lost 2nd position to Jeff Burton. On lap 353, Mike Skinner cut a tire and hit the wall. The lead lap cars all came onto pit road. Gordon came in 3rd and departed 3rd but there was a bigger situation about to happen. Points leader Bobby Labonte was the first off of pit road. However, a puddle of power steering fluid in his pit stall was an ominous sign. Labonte returned to pit road and would have to drive the remaining laps without power steering. He would eventually finish a lap down but would extend his points lead to 161 over Dale Earnhardt as then-second place points runner Dale Jarrett hit the wall after cutting a tire earlier in the night.
Gordon moved up to second after Labonte's problems and was gaining on Jeff Burton with 20 laps remaining. Though catching him and passing him were still in question. Casey Atwood, making his first Winston Cup start, cut a tire and the caution waved- ironic that Atwood's car owner, Ray Evernham, was instrumental in many of Gordon's victories. The caution flag bunched the field and the decision to stay out on the track was an easy one after leader Jeff Burton elected not to pit. On the restart with 15 laps remaining, Gordon shot to the high line in turn two to pass Burton who held the low line. After running side by side for half a lap, Gordon was able to make the pass. He pulled away from Burton but there was another competitor coming through the field. Dale Earnhardt had pitted under the final caution flag and had fresh tires on his Chevrolet. Earnhardt moved into the 2nd position but was a distant second when Gordon came off of turn four to take the checkered flag. "This is the biggest win of the year for us, no question about it," Gordon said. "It was pretty nice to see how things came together tonight. It says a lot about this race team. Tonight it was a championship caliber team."

Sunday, September 10 - Post-Race Aftermath
In post-race inspection, NASCAR impounds the intake manifold from the engine on Gordon's Chevrolet. When asked, NASCAR Spokesperson Kevin Triplett says that the governing body has "an issue" with the manifold.

Tuesday, September 12 - NASCAR Statement
NASCAR waits two full days to announce its findings. The governing body ruled that Jeff Gordon's crew chief Robbie Loomis has been fined $25,000, Gordon will suffer a loss of 100 driver points, and Rick Hendrick will lose 100 owners points due to the intake manifold on Gordon's car that he took to victory in the Chevrolet 400 at Richmond. "The General Motors intake manifold that the #24 team used during Saturday night's race in Richmond has not been approved," said NASCAR COO Mike Helton. "The GM part number on the casting was the same, however, a different material was used which altered the properties of the casting. The changed casting was not resubmitted by GM for NASCAR's approval in accordance with our procedures."

Tuesday, September 12 - Rick Hendrick's Response
Hendrick Motorsports CEO Rick Hendrick announces that his organization will appeal the penalties.
"We have notified NASCAR that we will appeal the penalty imposed on the #24 team following our victory Saturday night in Richmond. Not only do we feel a full hearing on the facts will exonerate our team from any intentional wrong doing, but it will remove any cloud of suspicion cast over a great victory.
The alleged violation involves the use of a magnesium alloy rather than aluminum in the intake manifold. The engine part in question is not built by Hendrick Motorsports, but is supplied to us and all other teams by General Motors. The engine part found to be in violation of NASCAR rules Saturday in Richmond has a GM part number specifically listed in the NASCAR rule book as an approved intake manifold. GM engineers believe that the intake manifold conforms to all NASCAR rules according to approved templates, gauges and other measuring devices. Hendrick Motorsports engineers have tested the part and determined that it in no way affected horsepower output.
We were under the impression NASCAR officials have been aware of the use of magnesium in intake manifolds for several months and had indicated to GM that it was approved as long as the part was not altered in any other way. There was no attempt to conceal the part, which we have been running since April. It also passed post-race inspection in Charlotte for two of our cars. Hendrick Motorsports has a strict policy that our people abide by the rules. There certainly was no attempt by us to gain an unfair advantage with a part available to, and in fact used by, other teams, and we feel confident this ruling will be reversed on appeal."

Tuesday, September 12 - General Motors Statement
General Motors Racing released the following statement from Doug Duchardt, NASCAR Group Manager for GM Racing, regarding the penalty NASCAR assessed to Jeff Gordon and his crew chief Robbie Loomis following Saturday night's Chevrolet 400 at Richmond International Raceway:
"We are very disappointed in the penalties by NASCAR against Hendrick Motorsports and Jeff Gordon. We supplied these magnesium intake manifolds to our teams in the clear belief that they are allowed under the rules. They are identical in shape and dimensions to the comparable aluminum manifold, produce no increase in horsepower and NASCAR has, on many occasions, permitted changes in materials of components where not explicitly prohibited by the rules. There is no mention of materials in the rule on intake manifolds.
There has never been any intent by GM Racing to provide these parts to teams secretly or to secure an unfair advantage by doing so. NASCAR technical officials have been aware of the use of this manifold for some time. Moreover, on multiple occasions, engines using these manifolds have been inspected by NASCAR and pronounced satisfactory.
We pride ourselves on having open, constructive communications with NASCAR officials on all matters, especially technical ones. Our track record over the years is proof enough of that. We followed the same process as before and believed that the submission of a new part to NASCAR for approval was not necessary. It is deeply regrettable that this situation has occurred.

Thursday, September 21 - Hearing Date Set
The National Stock Car Racing Commission announced that the appeal hearing requested by Hendrick Motorsports has been set for Thursday, September 28.
"Representatives for Hendrick Motorsports asked for a period in order to prepare for their presentation," said George Silbermann, chairman of the National Stock Car Racing Commission. "This was the date that the members of the commission and Hendrick Motorsports agreed upon for the hearing."

Friday, September 29 - NSCRC Ruling
After a day long hearing on Thursday, September 28, the National Stock Car Racing Commission issued a ruling the following day. The Commission, made up of three NASCAR officers, upheld the governing body's earlier judgement. The Commission issued the following:
"In the hearing, the appellants correctly noted that the NASCAR Winston Cup Rule Book does not specifically denote the material of the approved intake manifold, however, all witnesses in the hearing acknowledged that the approved NASCAR intake manifold, as listed in the NASCAR Rule Book, is aluminum. Sections 20 and 20-5 of the NASCAR Rule Book require that all changes to engine components must be submitted to NASCAR headquarters and approved by NASCAR prior to being used in competition. The change from aluminum to magnesium was not formally submitted to NASCAR headquarters and was not approved by NASCAR.
The commission notes and reaffirms the following fundamental principle, which is vital to maintaining the integrity of the sport: Regardless of the source of an unapproved part on a race car, the race team that officially enters the car in a NASCAR race and competes with that race car is ultimately accountable for that race car's conformance, or non-conformance, to the rules.
It is the unanimous decision of the National Stock Car Racing Commission to uphold the penalty assessed by NASCAR. The appellant has the right, under Section 15 of the NASCAR Rule Book, to appeal this decision to the National Stock Car Racing Commissioner."

Friday, September 29 - Rick Hendrick's statement
We are disappointed in the decision concerning our appeal. We felt we presented a strong case that NASCAR clearly indicated to us and other GM teams that there was no issue with the use of magnesium in intake manifolds.
Unfortunately, the NASCAR rule book is very vague concerning what constitutes an approval and we feel that there needs to be some clarification of this to prevent these types of situations from occurring in the future.
As we’ve said before, use of the part in question did not give us a competitive advantage and should in no way detract from the team’s victory at Richmond. There is one further step in the appeals process and we are trying to make a decision concerning any future action at this time.

Friday, September 29 - Jeff Gordon's statement
The decision has been made. We’re moving on. We gave it our best effort. That’s all I can say. We laid all the facts out there that we knew of, and they made the decision, and we’re moving on.

Monday, October 2 - Rick Hendrick
Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said that he will make no further appeal of NASCAR's penalty imposed on Jeff Gordon's team after the Richmond race. Hendrick had the option of appealing one final time, to Charles Strang, NASCAR's national commissioner and final appellate authority in NASCAR.
"To me it was ironclad that we were OK and I just can't understand why we were even fined and then that we didn't win the appeal. But then (NASCAR) having to admit they were wrong is pretty rough, too. At least they had a process and we got to go through it. I really hate that it happened because they openly admit we didn't do anything. It was a GM part and everybody was running it. They said they shipped a 100 of them and we had affidavits from teams who had run them and been through inspection with them. We don't want to drag it out, we just want to get on with our season."

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