Tire-tampering charges didn't slow Jeff Gordon in a win at
Jeff Burton, the latest driver to dominate a Winston Cup race
until Jeff Gordon blew past him near the finish, chuckled with
the weakest of smiles in the garage at Darlington Raceway on
Sunday. He'd just been asked if he was puzzled at Gordon's
extraordinary dominance over the last two months. "Me and 50
other guys," Burton said.
Moments earlier Gordon had breezed to victory in the Southern
500, overtaking Burton with 26 laps to go. The win was Gordon's
sixth in seven races and his 10th of the season, and it earned
him his second million-dollar race bonus of 1998 and his third
in the span of a year.
Moreover, the victory was accomplished against the backdrop of
NASCAR officials randomly confiscating tires used by cars in the
race and an official shadowing every move of Gordon's crew
chief, Ray Evernham. The reason: an Aug. 30 allegation by a
rival owner that the Rainbow Warriors have been chemically
treating tires to make them softer for better grip.
The tires seized at Darlington, along with those taken from
Gordon after his Aug. 30 victory at Loudon, N.H., are being put
through chemical analyses so sophisticated that NASCAR Winston
Cup director Gary Nelson calls it "a DNA test for tires." As of
Sunday it wasn't known when the results would be revealed.
"In this sport anybody who wins is cheating--whether they are or
not--it's an automatic accusation," Richard Petty, NASCAR's
alltime winningest driver, said at Darlington, making light of
The charges against Gordon were leveled by Jack Roush, owner of
five Winston Cup teams, after the New Hampshire race, in which
Gordon took on only two tires on his final pit stop while most
other drivers replaced four. Over the final 67 laps Gordon
pulled away from the field, including Roush's best driver, Mark
Martin, who had dominated most of the race. Roush contended that
a car with only two new tires could not have a grip advantage
over cars with four new tires. He revealed that he'd been sent
samples of a supposed tire-softening substance by an unnamed
distributor, who claimed the softener was undetectable and that
"my competition [Gordon] was using it."
According to engineers from a tire manufacturer, chemical
tampering of a tire can't go undetected. Even if a mystery
substance wore off entirely, it would leave evidence that a
chemical reaction had occurred within the compound of the tire.
If Gordon is exonerated of using chemically treated tires, the
question will still be asked: What are he and his team doing
that makes their car so much better than everybody else's--and
is it legal? Team owner Felix Sabates, who fields cars for
Sterling Marlin, Joe Nemechek and Jeff Green, offered the least
popular but most likely explanation on Sunday: "I think Jeff
Gordon is the best stock car driver of all time. I think he's
got the best crew of all time."
The Longest Season
NASCAR PLANS 34 RACES IN '99
NASCAR's Winston Cup Series continues to pull away as the
longest season in motor sports. The 1999 schedule, announced
last Thursday, will have a modern-era-record 34 races over a
40-week stretch from Valentine's Day through the weekend before
Thanksgiving, up one from this year. NASCAR usually ran more
than 50 races a year until 1972, but those schedules often
included several races a week at backwater tracks. Most team
owners consider 34 races to be at or very near the maximum for
which they can prepare cars.
Miami-Dade Motorsports Complex is the new venue on the 1999
schedule, with a 400-mile race planned for Nov. 14 at the
Wooing Formula One
INDY ALMOST HAS A DATE
Agreeing on a date appears to be the last major obstacle to a
marriage of Formula One and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in
2000. F/1 czar Bernie Ecclestone wants a U.S. Grand Prix to be
run around the same time as the Canadian Grand Prix, which is
held in June, so F/1 teams would have to make only one trip a
year to North America. Speedway president Tony George prefers to
host an F/1 event in September, to avoid logistical and
promotional conflicts with the Indy 500 in late May and the
Brickyard 400 in early August. The most likely resolution is
that Ecclestone will compromise on the calendar pairing.
George is proceeding with a major renovation of the Speedway's
infield buildings and grandstands but hasn't begun construction
on the infield road course and support facilities that are
necessary to accommodate F/1 cars. "That's going to have to wait
until we come to an agreement on the total program," George said
For the latest news from all the motor sports circuits, plus
more from Ed Hinton, go to www.cnnsi.com.
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL MELHADO TIREGATE Gordon's crew has been under NASCAR scrutiny since a two-tire stop in New Hampshire. [Pit crew working on Jeff Gordon's car]
Number of Winston Cup drivers who have won more money this year
than Richard Petty did in the richest season of his 35-year
career. Petty earned $531,292 in 1979.