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Pushing the envelope

NASCAR has a proud history of tweaking the rules

Posted: Tuesday June 26, 2007 8:01PM; Updated: Wednesday July 25, 2007 2:05PM
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Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, speaks to the media while Steve LeTarte, crew chief for Jeff Gordon looks on.
Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, speaks to the media while Steve LeTarte, crew chief for Jeff Gordon looks on.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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The saying is as old as the sport itself: If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'. The culture of cheating has been ingrained in NASCAR ever since the engines first fired in 1949 on a dirt track in Charlotte. That afternoon the first car that roared across the finish line was piloted by Glenn Dunnaway, but when it was discovered that he had illegal rear springs in his Ford, the victory was handed to Jim Roper. The NASCAR boys have been searching for creative ways around the rules ever since.

Herewith, five of the most popular ways to cheat in NASCAR:

1. Making illegal modifications to the body of the car.

Ok, so crew chiefs will tell you that this falls under the category of "ingenuity," but NASCAR inspectors label it flat-out cheating. The most recent example of this occurred at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma when inspectors busted Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Jimmie Johnson) and Steve Letarte (the crew chief for Jeff Gordon) for illegally tampering with the front splitter, which is basically located below the front bumper, on their respective cars.

Some background: As soon as NASCAR unveiled the new Car of Tomorrow, crew chiefs complained that they no longer had the ability to improvise and find speed in different places in their cars because of all the common templates that NASCAR mandated in the new car. In effect, all the cars are identical now and crew chiefs can only make the smallest adjustments to the car. But the one area where the crew chiefs thought they had some leeway was in the COT's front end. Hence, Knaus and Letarte -- who are two of the daring and ingenious guys in the garage -- tweaked their front-splitters a smidgen in the hope of finding more speed. NASCAR didn't buy it, and both the crew chiefs were suspended for six races and their race teams docked 100 points. Will this make the two more gun-shy in the future? In a word: no. After all, it's the crew chiefs job to be as "ingenious" (their preferred word) as possible.

2. Tinkering with the engine.

Before the 1976 Daytona 500, A.J. Foyt, Darrell Waltrip, and Dave Marcis dominated the qualifying session, running about three miles per hour faster than the rest of the field. But then a scandal broke: Foyt was found to have injected nitrous oxide into his engine, which gave him a little more speed.

This is an old story in NASCAR, and one that continues to play out season after season. At this year's Daytona 500, you'll recall, NASCAR seized Michael Waltrip's Toyota Camry after a jellylike substance was found in its fuel cell -- a substance that had similar properties to jet fuel.

3. A driver causing a caution by spinning out.

A few years ago at Bristol Dale Earnhardt Jr. was desperate for the caution flag to come out. He needed to get to pit road, but he didn't want to pit under the green flag, which would have caused him to go a few laps down. So what did Junior do? He spun himself out. The caution waved, and Little E likely would have gotten away with it if he had boasted about his stunt over the radio.

4. A driver causing a caution by creating debris.

In the garage it's a well-known fact that one former driver, who's now a television personality, used to create timely cautions by throwing debris onto the track out of his driver's window. The debris of choice was usually roll-bar padding.

5. Creating aerodynamic advantages by having parts magically fall off.

This is my all-time favorite cheating story. After Bobby Allison won the Daytona 500 in 1982, tests were done on his car because he reached Victory Lane without having a rear bumper. He'd lost it just a few laps into the race after what appeared to be innocuous contact with another car. But tests on Allison's Buick revealed that it actually turned faster lap times and had improved handling without the rear bumper, so it was alleged that Allison's team manipulated the rear bumper so that it would fall off at the slightest bit of contact. Allison swore that he and his team didn't do anything nefarious and NASCAR never fined him, but so was born "Bumpergate."

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