By Mike Mulhern
KANSAS CITY, Kansas
Kyle Busch’s victory in Saturday’s Busch 300 – a thriller win over Matt Kenseth in front of a crowd of some 82,000 – is in some doubt now, with NASCAR inspectors telling car owner Rick Hendrick the engine manifold on the winning car did not pass post-race inspection.
Doug Duchardt, Hendrick’s vice president for development, said he didn’t learn of the issue until well after he’d left Kansas Speedway Saturday night when “they told us we had failed inspection.”
That was about five hours after the race was over….an inspection issue in itself, given the championship playoffs on the Cup side of the garage, with the possibility of a similar late-night issue following the Homestead finale. A late post-race inspection issue just last week at Dover led to a 25-point penalty assessed Cup winner Carl Edwards.
NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter says inspectors saw something inside the manifold they didn’t like, but Hunter said that doesn’t necessarily mean it failed inspection, not yet at least. “We’re taking it back to the R&D center (in Concord, N.C.), because we want to be sure if it’s right or wrong,” Hunter said. “We want to be right. We think, but we don’t know for sure.
“We want to be sure before we issue any penalties. If it winds up being a gray area and there is no penalty, we’ll announce that too.”
Duchardt said he would be surprised if NASCAR took the win away.
NASCAR teams do considerable work to engine manifolds, cutting them apart to reshape the interior runners for better air flow, and sometimes trying to cover their alterations with special techniques.
Duchardt said he still didn’t understand what questions NASCAR might have, because he said NASCAR first got a good look at this particular manifold in 2004 when Kyle Busch finished third at Homestead, Fla.
“NASCAR has had an issue with our Busch manifold, and we’re still awaiting final word from them what the situation exactly is,” Duchardt said.
Jack Roush, who owns Kenseth’s car, said “I talked with NASCAR, and they said it was an ‘interpretation’ problem between inspectors.
“I don’t know what that means…but I had an ‘interpretation’ problem, or a misrepresentation between two inspectors, after a Truck race – and it cost me a championship. But I don’t know what they’ll do about it.
“I just became aware of the issue this morning. I’ve been so embroiled with last week’s penalty that I missed that.”
Roush says he has not yet seen the manifold in question, but NASCAR said he would be allowed to see the manifold, no matter which way NASCAR rules.
“The issue is inside the manifold,” Duchardt said. “The exterior is defined, but the inside is not as defined. So what happens is we have to show NASCAR the manifold ahead of time, and they say ‘It’s okay,’ and we go down the road.
“This (particular manifold inspection) occurred sometime between 2003 and 2004. The late Randy Dorton had that meeting with NASCAR and with two of the NASCAR inspectors who were here Saturday night, and since then we have been running this manifold.
“The physical piece they took we know campaigned at least at Homestead in ‘04 (where Kyle Busch finished third), and we run this one at the intermediate tracks. NASCAR has seen this manifold when we won in ‘05 (Kyle Busch at Charlotte) and when Casey Mears got second at California (this past February).
“Most importantly last week at Dover NASCAR took 10 (Busch) manifolds from different teams, as they are looking at rules for next year, and they had an absolute twin to this manifold for two days, and we were not told of any issues with that. So we’re trying to understand what’s changed.”
The 82,000 who thought they saw Busch beat Kenseth cleanly might question how NASCAR inspectors could have passed Busch’s car before the race and then decided after the race that something was wrong.
“It’s an interpretation; there are no rules on dimensions,” Duchardt said. “That’s why we physically have to show the part to NASCAR before we use it.
“And we did that with this manifold before the 2004 season. And the casting hasn’t changed, and our understanding is the interpretation hasn’t changed.
“The Busch manifold rules are difficult for everyone, and NASCAR is trying to fix that for ‘08.”
ABC’s telecast of last Sunday’s Dover 400 showed an increase in viewers over last season’s fall race, but ABC’s 3.5 rating was still not very impressive for a major network sports broadcast. And it was well off the weekend’s top sports event, NBC’s Sunday night NFL between Chicago and Dallas, which drew an 8.9 rating.
It was the second straight championship playoffs disappointment for NASCAR and TV. The 10-race chase opened with a mediocre 3.3 rating for the Loudon 300.
ABC says Dover was watched in 3.9 million households, which translates to 5.5 million viewers. Last fall’s Dover race, on TNT-cable, was seen in 3.4 million homes.
Tony Stewart could have been tagged with a penalty for using obscene language in a brief exchange with a TV cameraman during Saturday practice. But NASCAR officials shrugged off the issue after reviewing the encounter, which occurred when an ESPN cameraman, during a live clip on pit road, approached Stewart and Robby Gordon, who were engaged in a private conversation.
Stewart, not realizing the camera was live, told the cameraman to buzz off. ESPN broadcasters quickly apologized to the viewing audience for the bad language.
Juan Pablo Montoya was hit with a $10,000 fine after a similar situation during the Phoenix weekend in April.
Greg Zipadelli, Stewart’s crew chief, was angry with the media over the situation, saying they had no right to intrude on a private conversation like that. In fact, the cameraman had apparently been told earlier by NASCAR officials to leave that part of pit road.