MARTINSVILLE, Va. – With his championship team seemingly in the crosshairs of a NASCAR investigation into tire tampering, Rodney Childers alternately bristled and scoffed at the rumors Friday at Martinsville Speedway.
“I started racing when I was 12 years old, (and) people accused me of stuff,” the crew chief for Kevin Harvick said. “They accused me of stuff when I was 15 years old. They accused me of stuff when I was 20 years old. They’re still accusing me of stuff.”
No one has pointed the finger publicly at illegal wrongdoing during Harvick’s impressive streak of eight consecutive top-two finishes (dating to the final four races of his 2014 title campaign). Behind the scenes, though, competitors have grumbled about the source of Harvick’s speed.
But Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet is the only team to have its tires seized by NASCAR after the past two Sprint Cup races. NASCAR warned teams about the potential for severe penalties Friday morning at Martinsville in the wake of sending some tires for a third-party investigation this week.
Childers, who joined Stewart-Haas Racing with Harvick last season, said it’s nothing unfamiliar, though, for his team.
“I don’t think everybody realizes that they’ve taken our tires 17 times in the last 18 months,” he said. “Every time we finish first or second, our car goes back to the R&D Center with the tires we won the race on. NASCAR’s doing their jobs, and everybody else is making a big deal about it, right?”
Childers said NASCAR also had examined the team’s tires many times during races last season.
“Nobody ever talked about it,” he said. “I’m starting to get a little bit ill about it. It’s turned into a joke. Honestly, I’m flattered. I love it.”
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon said Friday he believes that teams have found ways to “bleed” their tires, which maintains optimum air pressure during a green-flag run and keeps speeds consistent.
The situation is reminiscent of Gordon’s 1998 championship season. On the way to tying a modern-era record with 13 victories, Gordon’s tires were confiscated after an August 1998 win at Loudon, N.H., and sent for independent testing that found nothing.
“We weren’t ever doing anything like that in 1998,” Gordon said Friday. “Maybe people were speculating what we were doing, or if (crew chief) Ray (Evernham) was doing it, he never told me. But after all these years, I think I would have known about that. But I’ve heard about a lot of things with valve caps and poking holes in tires for years.”
Childers said he welcomed the scrutiny of being a successful team.
“I don’t know how Ray Evernham reacted back in the day, but that’s (NASCAR’s) job,” Childers said. “If you’ve got a car that’s on a streak like the 4 car’s been and they’ve got eight top-twos in a row, nobody’s done that since when there was 2.5 cars on the lead lap at the end of each race, it’s a big damn deal, you know? I don’t blame them at all. I’m 100% percent on their side. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to keep a level playing field.
“The only thing I don’t like is when it stirs up a bunch of drama and because there’s no need for it. But it’s part of it. You don’t want the drama surrounding your team. You want to keep them focused on what you’re doing. All in all, they’re doing their jobs.”
Childers playfully delivered a message to any competition that believes he and Harvick are bending the rules.
“They also need to look at qualifying because bleeding your tires in qualifying for one lap don’t help,” Childers said. “We beat ’em every week, so they better get working on their cars a little bit, I’d say.”
Harvick, who has started on the front row of three of five races this year, also addressed the tire controversy on Twitter.