Tire tampering in NASCAR? Jeff Gordon says, ‘it’s definitely being done. It’s just not clear on how’

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Having seized tires for evaluation after the past two Sprint Cup races, NASCAR warned teams Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway about the severe penalties for tampering.

NASCAR confirmed Sprint Cup director Richard Buck discussed the issue among several other topics during a meeting with crew chiefs.

There has been rampant speculation that some teams might be poking tiny holes in their tires to “bleed” the air and maintain an optimum level of pressure, which prevents a dropoff in speed as pressure builds (and lessen traction) during the course of a green-flag run.

Jeff Gordon said he believes there are teams using the method.

“When it gets to this level when you’re hearing about it, I’m hearing about it, and they’re talking about things in meetings with crew chiefs, that tells me it’s definitely being done,” he said. “It’s just not clear on how it’s being done.”

NASCAR confiscated the tires of Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick after the March 15 race at Phoenix International Raceway and found no wrongdoing. After the March 22 race at Auto Club Speedway, NASCAR took the tires of Harvick, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman, and it has sent some to a third party for further scrutiny (though it wouldn’t confirm whose).

After qualifying second for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Newman shrugged off being one of the teams under evaluation.

“In my educational career, I’ve been called to the principal’s office a few times, and a few times let go for whatever, so from my standpoint, it’s just a matter of them doing their job, whether you’re guilty or not guilty, it’s their job of keeping the sport at a level playing field,” the Richard Childress Racing driver said. “We’ll see what comes of it. I’m not worried about anything”

Alan Gustafson, Gordon’s crew chief, said he has heard the speculation but “didn’t have enough information that would warrant a comment” on whether teams were tampering.

“There’s a lot of smoke around that,” Gustafson said. “There’s a lot of talk, a lot of dialogue, there’s a lot of rumors in the garage. So yeah, I think it’s obvious that some people think something’s going on. Is NASCAR reacting to that or do they feel uncomfortable with what’s going on? I don’t know that answer. I do think it is something that’s in the forefront of a lot of people’s minds.

“Obviously NASCAR is trying to make sure we’re all on a level playing field, and if anyone is violating that, they’ll pay the price. Which they’ve reminded us (Friday) morning is very, very stiff. That’s all I know. Anything beyond that is speculation besides the fact that it’s a hot topic obviously.”

The NASCAR rulebook lists modifying or altering tires as a P5 penalty, which could mean a 50-point deduction, $75,000-$125,000 fine and a six-race suspension for team members.

Gustafson said he had heard teams might be applying the same practice as a bleeder valve, which commonly are used at short tracks. In addition to performance enhancements, Gustafson said there is an ancillary safety benefit, too, by decreasing the likelihood of a failure.

“A bleeder would do the exact same thing and probably do a better job than what is proposed that some people are doing,” Gustafson said. “I do think that’s something NASCAR can look at, and it’s something that potentially could help the durability of the tire because you can start higher on pressure and stay within that optimum operating condition of the tire. It’s a valid point. That’s something to look at for sure to see if it would improve our sport for tire durability and the fairness of competition.

“That’s the thing that is tough for NASCAR. If this is going on, as rumored, it’s a very difficult thing to police, a way to police it may just be to allow it through a more conventional tool like a bleeder.”

Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, joked he didn’t know much about the rumors because “I don’t have a lot of friends in the garage.

“I know I sent Richard Buck a text and said, ‘Hey man, can we poke holes in our tires, is that OK?’ ” Knaus said with a broad smile. “And he texted back and said, ‘Absolutely not.’ So that’s all I know.”

Gordon said he had “heard  a lot of things with valve caps and poking holes in tires for years. But I’ve never seen it done. I’ve never had proof it was done.

“It’s very interesting to me that NASCAR is investigating it further and looking forward to seeing what comes out of it. If they find a way to stop it and it’s really going on, I get excited about our chances because I know we’re not doing it, so it will close the gap for us to whoever may be doing it.”