Commentary

Old friends Roush and White spark war of words over cheating

For two guys who used to be friends, the accusations of cheating volleyed between Ford team owner Jack Roush and Toyota Racing Development GM Lee White sure turned ugly in a hurry, writes David Newton.

Updated: March 7, 2008, 7:39 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Jack Roush came to the media center at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday toting the oil reservoir lid that came off Carl Edwards' car at Las Vegas.

[+] EnlargeJack Roush
Fernando Medina/US PresswireJack Roush hasn't been afraid to give his opinion.

It had cost his driver the championship lead when NASCAR penalized Edwards 100 points.

It might as well have been a shield, because Roush definitely had his sword drawn.

What began as a debate over whether the infraction was intentional -- which is the overwhelming opinion of the Sprint Cup garage -- has turned into personal warfare between Roush and Toyota's Lee White.

Roush has badgered White repeatedly since Toyota came into the sport last season, complaining about how the foreign manufacturer stole away crew members by doubling salaries and drove up the overall cost it takes to compete.

He even referenced the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. To prove he has a long memory, that actually happened a year before Roush was born.

So when NASCAR hammered Edwards with the penalty, which included the loss of 10 bonus points he would get should he make the championship chase and a six-race suspension for crew chief Bob Osborne, White didn't hesitate to fire back at his former boss.

White, the general manager of Toyota Racing Development, told USA Today on Thursday that Roush Fenway Racing knowingly caused the lid to come off to increase the car's speed.

He said Toyota's wind tunnel tests in Germany showed that removing the cover resulted in 170 pounds of extra downforce. He added that a video of a pit stop showed a member of Edwards' pit crew pulling on the side fender to open a 3-inch gap to an inner panel, and that Toyota tests showed that could create 70 pounds of downforce.

Roush fired back with claims that White basically cheated during his days as the manager of Roush's road-racing team and that was the reason the owner didn't bring him to North Carolina when he moved into NASCAR.

He also questioned why White would test a car without the lid or with the side panel pulled out when both are illegal.

And then to throw fuel on the fire, Roush said Michael Waltrip's car wasn't the only Toyota at the 2007 Daytona 500 that had "jet fuel" in the engine. NASCAR never has revealed what the foreign substance was.

Oh, and there was a comparison of White to an "ankle-biting Chihuahua."

"Jack hasn't cut us much slack for four years now," White said. "The only problem with this was if he attacked the company. He'll attack me personally, but that's OK. I'm a big boy. He's a friend of mine and I can take anything he has to say."

Roush and White actually were once friends. White often tells how in 1986 his wife picked out Roush's first fedora, the hat that led to Roush's moniker, the "Cat in the Hat."

They don't sound like friends now, unless you consider Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell friends.

"I think Toyota and Lee White are besieged by the fact that they've wasted a bunch of money for two years, that they haven't gotten the results that they represented to management that they were going to get on the racetrack, that they haven't gotten the result of what fans expect," said Roush, who has won two of the first three events this season with Edwards.

"Travis Kvapil, in his [third] race of the 2008 season, beat all of the Toyotas single-handedly [with a eighth-place finish at Vegas]. On a start-up team."

Next came Roush's shots at Toyota's integrity, when he questioned why Toyota would test a car with an illegal setup.

"Why would they do that?" he asked. "I wonder how many times they tested the rocket fuel on Michael Waltrip's car before they decided to take that chance at Daytona?

"By the way, that wasn't the only one that had stuff in it. There were other cars they found deposits of the same residue in the intake manifold."

NASCAR officials declined to comment on that topic, but got a kick out of the way Roush and White were attacking each other. Maybe the two simply are following the edict of chairman Brian France and showing more of their personalities.

Or maybe they genuinely don't like each other.

The latter sounds more plausible, particularly when you consider Roush didn't bring White with him to NASCAR's premier series.

"We won all the Daytona 24-hour races we'd gone to," Roush said. "We'd won like 50 or 52 percent of the [road] races we'd entered with Lee being at the helm most of the time. I turned my back on him. I said I'm gonna go South. I'm gonna embrace the Southern way. I'm gonna embrace NASCAR, embrace the culture.

"I'm going to pick managers. I'm going to pick mechanics and I'm going to pick supervisors out of the work force down there rather than take you down there with me."

I think Toyota and Lee White are besieged by the fact that they've wasted a bunch of money for two years, that they haven't gotten the results that they represented to management that they were going to get on the racetrack, that they haven't gotten the result of what fans expect.

-- Jack Roush

He then noted the team won 50 percent of its races from the time White left in 1988 through 1996. He stopped just short of calling White a cheater.

White had a distinctively different memory of their breakup, making them sound as inseparable as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

"He told me for many years we were going to buy a house on 13 acres in Liberty, N.C., and retire and hunt rabbits together," he recalled. "When he got ready to move to North Carolina, he told me Steve Hmiel and Robin Pemberton had an issue with me moving in on their doorsteps.

"He told me they weren't happy with somebody from Livonia [Mich.] coming to North Carolina and running the show. Jack can say whatever he wants. I still don't believe Jack cheats."

Yes, White had something nice to say about Roush. He backed off from his initial claim that the infraction had to be committed on purpose.

"I want to recant that," White said. "I will tell you categorically, I have been friends with Jack Roush for almost 25 years and he doesn't cheat. He never has. He certainly never did when I was with him. In my opinion, he never will."

Detente? Read on.

"I can't vouch for the people that work for them because I don't know them," White said. "I can't sit here and say it was done intentionally because I don't know. I can tell you I read an article of Jack Roush's a week ago where he was talking about being an endurance racer and stuff doesn't fall off his race car."

White also suggested the fine should have been even higher.

A dig here. A dig there.

Perhaps Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage should set up a boxing match between the two. The $15,000 bounty he offered any driver who throws a helmet prior to the April 6 race in Texas certainly hasn't sparked interest.

Or maybe White will simply apologize and Roush will accept.

"I want to give him a little while to cool off," White said. "And hopefully he won't punch me in the nose."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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