Are Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin cheating their way to the top of the Sprint Cup standings?
NASCAR says no, and yes. Or is it maybe? NASCAR issued a warning to the 48 and the 5 teams concerning measurements after the Dover race that were very close to being illegal in several areas of the cars. Given Chad Knaus's history of pushing the limits with his cars, the warning was one seriously hot topic as the series hit Kansas for the third race in the Chase.
So serious that Knaus, Johnson's ultra-successful crew chief and a man who avoids the print media whenever possible, took time to answer several questions Friday at Kansas. Knaus insisted his team isn't cheating.
"First off, if we were cheating I wouldn't be standing here - I'd back in Charlotte - so obviously that's not the case," he said. "It's a situation that we do a good job of building very, very good race cars and we take pride in that. We really do. We've always taken it to what we thought were the tolerances, but we never crossed that line and we don't cross that line. The cars were legal. That's the thing everybody has to understand.
"It's turned into a bigger issue than what it really should. We're trying to work with NASCAR to make sure the inspection process and the way that we measure cars and the way they measure cars are all in line. You have to realize that it was only 10 short years ago what we used to tech the template on these cars was a piece of plywood cut in the silhouette of a race car. Now we're measuring with quarter measuring systems measured to the hundreds of thousandths of an inch, and it's a learning process for everybody."
Knaus pointed out that NASCAR has issued similar warnings to other teams during the past couple of years in trying to save the teams from being penalized. Once warned, the teams will be tested again. If the measurements are more in line with what NASCAR wants, the warning will have done its job.
Knaus, for one, appreciates the opportunity to fix things without a penalty.
"This is just fortunately the first time that we've had this happen," he said. "So it's good timing for everyone. It's realigning where we need to be. The last thing that we want with what we're trying to do with this here is to have a situation in the postrace inspection. That's the furthest thing from our minds. We're going into this deal trying to win our fourth straight championship, and that's our focus.
"I can promise you that is the last thing that we want is to put ourselves in a situation where we have a deficit or any type of penalty or anything looming over this."
NASCAR gets hammered for playing favorites all the time, and surely it will hear about this in that vein. But give officials credit for being proactive. No one likes a cheat, sure, but no one likes to see any championship won or lost because of penalties, either.