Notable NASCAR Cheating Scandals
There's an old saying, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” Though the original source of this saying is hard to attribute, it has been used in many sporting situations to justify actions—most prominently, perhaps, in the world of NASCAR racing. While current drivers such as Jimmie Johnson have raised suspicions, there are plenty of examples in the NASCAR world of people stretching the rules just a bit.
At the 2013 Richmond race, the last one before the chase, Clint Bowyer, with no chance at the chase himself, mysteriously spun out, causing a late caution that then knocked other drivers including Jeff Gordon out of a Chase spot and put his teammate, Martin Truex Jr. in.
After reviewing the footage, NASCAR decided Bowyer had spun out on purpose and took the spot away from Truex Jr. They gave it back to Newman, who would have won the spot if the caution had not occurred.
Junior was famous for saying that it wasn’t exactly “cheatin’” that he was doing, it was just “creatin’” Junior as one of the early racers in the sport believed in creativity when it came to modifications of his car. He even cut down and rebuilt one of his cars, the yellow banana, in order to improve aerodynamics.
Junior was not caught for all the modifications he made. But he was caught for some. A few notable ones include a four-race suspension for using a bigger engine in 1991. In 1996 he received a fine for not having welded the intake manifold.
Junior, however, came from the old school of racing, getting his start as a moonshine runner for his father. Modifications were part of the game for him.
But as NASCAR tightened the rules, the cheating scandals became more prominent and, necessarily, more sneaky.
At a 1983 race in Charlotte, Richard Petty’s winning car did not pass its post-race inspection. The engine was found to be too big, and the team was accused of using the wrong tires on the left side of the car.
The modifications to the engine included adding wax to the cylinders which melted during the race.
The scandal was blamed on Petty’s brother, but there was some question as to whether Petty actually had knowledge of the modifications or not.
In what was called one of the biggest cheating scandals in modern NASCAR racing history, Michael Waltrip’s team was penalized after inspection showed a fuel additive, which sources say had the properties of jet fuel, in the car.
The scandal happened in 2007. Though other teams since then have been penalized for creative fuel additives to their cars, this seems to mark a turning point in NASCAR.
Up until then many of the scandals and illegal modifications, from outsider’s perspectives at least, did not receive attention or received slap-on-the-wrist penalties. But the new rules worked to insure uniformity and standards, placing less emphasis on talent in the garage and more on the talent on the track.
In 1990, after winning in Richmond, Martin’s car was disqualified because of a carburetor spacer that was a half inch too high.
Martin expressed frustration with the ruling which cost him points and ultimately the championship at the end of the year.
The infraction, Martin and his team contended, did not give him an unfair advantage in the win. Ultimately he lost sponsors and ranking from what he considered a minor slip up.
One of the most famous and puzzling incidents happened with a car named the T-Rex, which Jeff Gordon drove to victory in 1997.
The car, sponsored by the sequel to Jurassic Park, was built from the ground up, reportedly, painstakingly following NASCAR rules but trying to improve on all the problem areas.
The car was described as “wicked” fast and in the one and only race that it was ever in, the car cruised to an easy victory.
In interviews, Gordon said that the car hugged the track in a way that he had never experienced.
The reaction within NASCAR was a bit problematic. Team owners realized that a whole new race car had been built. They were upset by the fact that in order to compete, they too would have to build all new race cars.
So, after post-race inspection, the team was told that they could keep their win but were to never bring the race car back to race, and it never did.
After inspections of Gordon’s car, NASCAR added new rules that made the new car illegal to race anyway.
Is Cheating Just a Part of the Sport?
At the start of NASCAR, at its inception, modifications of stock cars were the name of the game. The ones who were more creative and better at finding the right balance between engines, aerodynamics, intake—these were the ones that won.
But the desire for uniformity seemed to supersede the promotion of creativity.
Or does it?
What about modern NASCAR racing? Is there still “creativity” going on that is just hidden from the inspections and sanctioning bodies? What kind of cheating will be revealed after the fact?
When you have fast drivers such a Jimmie Johnson, who can consistently move from the back to the front, are they just that much better or has Chad Knauss found ways to be creative either within the restrictive rules or is very good at hiding?
In NASCAR’s desire to create a more level playing field and more consistent sporting experience for drivers and fans, cheating scandals and hidden modifications are still there. Sometimes they are found and sometimes they are not.
While much of each race depends on both talent and luck, there is also sometimes that hidden, extra boost that brings the winning driver to victory.
It seems to be as much a part of the sport as sponsors, and that is not likely to change.