Dale Jr hits back at fixing claims

As NASCAR Winston Cup teams were running laps at the brand new Chicagoland Speedway in preparation for Sunday's Tropicana 400 - the series' first race at the track close to America's third largest city - most of the attention was on anything but the race.

Dale Jr hits back at fixing claims

Dale Earnhardt Jr is steaming mad over allegations that his victory in last Saturday night's was fixed and that he may have had an unfair advantage over the competition in the Pepsi 400 when his car was able to do things that supposedly defied the laws of physics. The conspiracy theorists believe it was a way to write a storybook ending to have young Earnhardt win on the same track where his father was killed on the last turn of the last lap of the February 18 Daytona 500.

Tony Stewart had to make a sheepish public apology to a North Carolina sports writer for slapping a tape recorder out of his hand, then kicking it under a NASCAR team transporter after being questioned for a black-flag penalty in the closing stages of the Pepsi 400. That night, Stewart confronted NASCAR Winston Cup director Gary Nelson over the penalty and had to be restrained by team owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Greg Zipadelli.

Stewart was fined US$10,000 for those actions.

And driver Jimmy Spencer has had to back pedal from comments made after the Pepsi 400 that the race had been rigged after apparently being strong-armed by NASCAR. Spencer had said on NBC that, in effect, the outcome of the race should come as no surprise, NASCAR had been doing things like that over the years and Earnhardt's victory had been preordained since February.

In NASCAR Winston Cup racing's first trip to Chicago as a big-time sport, the events leading up to Sunday's race won't even get top billing. That's because baseball's Chicago White Sox are playing the Chicago Cubs from Thursday through to Saturday at Wrigley Field, moving the NASCAR coverage to the back page of The Chicago Tribune.

For the record, Mark Martin had the fastest lap of the two practice sessions when he ran 183.867 miles per hour in a Roush Racing Ford Taurus on Thursday at the new 1.5-mile oval co-owned by the International Speedway Corporation and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As for Earnhardt, he continues to be upset that there is a shroud of uncertainty that he actually won the race without any suspicions involving NASCAR possibly giving the team a big restrictor plate for the competition. What has fueled that theory is the fact that in a restrictor-plate race, cars running in a group are always faster than one car running on its own.

Toward the end of Saturday night's race, Earnhardt was able to drive to the outside line by himself and easily drive past five cars. Earnhardt's Chevrolet was so strong, he led 116 laps of the 160-lap race. He believes he drove his heart out.

"I couldn't believe it," Earnhardt said. "I was in Seattle for the (baseball) All-Star Game and I was doing some interviews with the baseball media and this guy asked me like, `What do you think about people saying the race was fixed?' I literally cocked back just to knock the hell out of this guy. I didn't know what he was saying. It didn't register.

"It really bothered me pretty bad, it upset me. That was the biggest race of my career, my biggest win. Aside from the wins I had when my father was there, that's going to be the day that I will always remember. For somebody to question its credibility, to question my credibility, I feel like that's a slap in the face, a slap in my father's face and a slap in crew chief Tony Eury's face."

Earnhardt believes his crew "busted their butts" to give Earnhardt a dominant car, working hard on the race car than probably any other car that has been prepared at Dale Earnhardt Inc.

"I never drover harder in my life," Earnhardt said. "I went out there and got the lead. I was blocking all night long and making the moves to stay up front. We won the race so convincingly that it raised questions. It's a shame and it takes a lot away from it."

Earnhardt believes that with NASCAR already heavily scrutinized by the national media over what happened in his father's fatal crash, that this would not be a good time to orchestrate the outcome of a race.

"In my mind, if they would do something like that, why would they? They've got so much to lose and so little to gain by doing something like that," Earnhardt said. "NASCAR is now just getting into the markets and the areas that they want to get into. Why would they want to take a chance and risk everything they have? It was a great moment in NASCAR history and it got kicked in the groin."

Meantime, Dale Earnhardt, Inc team manager Ty Norris vented his thoughts on the rumors of a fix and said the victory was a result of a dedicated effort by the crew. He also made some strong comments about Spencer's comments.

"I'm furious, absolutely furious about it," Norris said. "Two years ago, Dale Earnhardt made the commitment to have a dedicated aerodynamic program and a restrictor-plate program with our engines. To have somebody come out and say that all this was fixed after we finished first and second at the Daytona 500, for someone who sits on his butt and can't get into shape to finish a race, that's infuriating to me.

"I'm tired of the innuendo," he added. "It's OK for the fans to say it was too perfect, but for a guy who is in that garage and knows what everybody has to do to be in this business at this level, I'm infuriated that somebody involved in this sport would say that. Everybody knows who it is."

While Earnhardt's crew is furious, Stewart was forced to publicly apologize to Mike Mulhern of the Winston-Salem Journal and take responsibility for his actions against Nelson after he ignored a black flag late in Saturday night's race. NASCAR dropped him from sixth place to 26th-place, which resulted in a loss of 65 Winston Cup points.

"While I still disagree with the black flag penalty our team received prior to the finish of the Pepsi 400, I accept the fine and probation that NASCAR has issued to me as a result of my post-race conduct," Stewart said. "Specifically, my treatment of reporter Mike Mulhern and Gary Nelson of NASCAR was inappropriate, and for that I apologize. By the time the first practice session gets underway Thursday at Chicagoland Speedway, I'll have met with Mike and I'll have apologized to him face to face. I will look for the same opportunity with Gary Nelson as well.

"For others I may have offended following the race, I regret that also. I will continue to work with all those people who support me on handling these types of situations better in the future. We've got a race this weekend, and that's what we're focusing on now. As frustrating as Daytona was for our race team, we're moving on and putting the past behind us."

And that's what NASCAR is attempting to do this week at Chicagoland Speedway, but the questions of the past keep overshadowing its future.

Stewart fined, but escapes race ban

Previous article

Stewart fined, but escapes race ban

Next article

Qualifying: Bodine heads Carter one-two

Qualifying: Bodine heads Carter one-two
Load comments
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Plus

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organisation - which underlines his enduring value

Aug 31, 2021
The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin Plus

The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin

A multiple F3000 race winner, Marc Goossens was on the precipice of making Formula 1 in the 1990s - but a lack of budget left him without a path to the promised land. Turning to an illustrious racing career in sportscars, Goossens left the endurance circuit to try his hand at racing stock cars - and now calls the NASCAR Euro Series home

Jul 1, 2021
Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR Plus

Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR

There has never been a full-time British driver in the NASCAR Cup. But Alex Sedgwick, who is rising through the stock car ranks, wants that to change and could be a trailblazer for European talents to reach the top echelons of the NASCAR ladder

Feb 28, 2021
How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport Plus

How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport

It's 20 years since legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Sr died at the Daytona 500, but the legacy of his crash continues today through the pioneering safety work done by NASCAR

Feb 18, 2021
The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021 Plus

The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season

Feb 12, 2021
How a second-chance NASCAR ace is rebuilding his career Plus

How a second-chance NASCAR ace is rebuilding his career

From a disgraced NASCAR exile, Kyle Larson has been given a shot at redemption by the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports squad. Replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is no easy billing, but Larson has every intention of repaying the team's faith

Feb 11, 2021
Autosport's top 5 NASCAR machines Plus

Autosport's top 5 NASCAR machines

The American stock car scene is more famous for its close racing and occasional punch-ups, but there have been some fantastic machines too. As part of Autosport's 70th anniversary celebrations in 2020, we picked out five of its best

Jan 3, 2021
Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started Plus

Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started

Chase Elliott's late charge to the 2020 NASCAR Cup title defied predictions that it would be a Kevin Harvick versus Denny Hamlin showdown. While the two veterans are showing no signs of slowing down, Elliott's triumph was a window into NASCAR's future

Nov 17, 2020