Burton on missing lid: 'Typically things don't fall off the cars'

Updated: April 5, 2008, 10:04 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Jack Roush is prepared to take a polygraph test to prove he didn't intentionally rig the oil tank lid in Carl Edwards' car to come off during last weekend's Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He's ready to have half of the No. 99 team and top engineers take the test as well.

It might take that to convince everybody in the garage that the lid accidentally came off as Edwards rolled to his second consecutive victory.

"It insults my intelligence as a race car driver when you try and tell me that you accidentally left the oil tank lid off," Elliott Sadler said before Friday's practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

That was the prevailing opinion in the garage. From crew chiefs to crew members to drivers, most believe there was no way the lid accidentally came off.

There also were accusations that the latches in the passenger side window were purposely left open to allow air inside the car and create an aerodynamic advantage.

A picture found on the Internet showing the open latches and lid was circulated throughout the garage.

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Roush took offense to the notion that either one was on purpose.

"I can prove that I was not culpable here and nobody on the team was culpable, and I think that should make a difference," he said.

NASCAR discovered the missing lid during Sunday's postrace inspection and on Wednesday penalized the driver 100 points to take him from first to seventh in the standings. Edwards also lost the 10 bonus points that would be awarded should he make the Chase.

Crew chief Bob Osborne also was suspended for six races and will begin serving that penalty this weekend pending an appeal expected to come from Roush Fenway Racing.

Roush said the only reason to appeal would be to reduce Osborne's suspension, saying he doesn't believe the National Stock Car Racing Commission that would consider his case will return the points.

But Roush was insistent that the infraction was an accident, bringing the lid and the bolt that came loose to the media center at AMS to explain his theory.

One thing I have learned about these race cars is typically things don't fall off the cars. We have highly trained mechanics that have rigorous check lists. But mistakes do happen. I don't know if they did it on purpose or not, nor do I claim to. But it did happen.

--Jeff Burton

He noted that there had been a change in the bolts from last season, and that this one apparently shook loose from vibrations during the race. He said a safety wire has been installed this week to make sure there's not a repeat offense.

Edwards was so convinced the lid came off accidentally that he issued a challenge.

"The bottom line is I don't have anything going Monday, so if Toyota or anyone else wants to go up to Vegas and hire a flagman and run 400 laps I'll be glad to do it," he said.

Edwards mentioned Toyota for a reason. Lee White, the general manager of Toyota Racing Development, told USA Today on Thursday that the team knowingly caused the lid to come off to increase the car's speed.

He said Toyota 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 a right rear 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, questioning why Toyota would test a car with a setup that is illegal. Several Sprint Cup drivers delivered the same message.

White later recanted any insinuation that Roush cheated, but by then the war was fully engaged.

That didn't change the perception in the garage.

"One thing I have learned about these race cars is typically things don't fall off the cars," said Jeff Burton, who drove for Roush before moving to Richard Childress Racing halfway through the 2004 season. "Crew members typically don't leave the A frames loose, they typically don't leave brakes loose, the gauges don't fall out of them. We have highly trained mechanics that have rigorous checklists.

"But mistakes do happen. I don't know if they did it on purpose or not, nor do I claim to. But it did happen."

Ryan Pemberton, the crew chief for David Reutimann, said it's hard to believe the latches and lid both occurred accidentally.

"Sometimes, to have a good finish you've got to be so lucky to have all of those things happen," he said with a touch of sarcasm.

Pat Tryson, the crew chief for Kurt Busch, was more direct.

"If you're asking me do I agree more with Lee White? Yes," said Tryson, who was released as Greg Biffle's crew chief at Roush last season. "That's a lot of downforce. I can't believe it was accidental."

Teams have tried to skirt the rules for years by removing the oil case lid, particularly at downforce tracks such as Talladega and Daytona.

"I've run it five or six times, not necessarily with the Car of Tomorrow, but every time it was 120 or more [pounds of downforce]," Tryson said. "There is no doubt it makes a lot of downforce. They can say whatever they want, but it's a lot."

Steve Letarte, the crew chief for Jeff Gordon, said if White's numbers are correct that would create a huge advantage.

"I'd run a lot faster with a 170 pounds of downforce," he said.

A crew member from Dale Earnhardt Inc. said the organization performed a similar wind tunnel test this week to determine the advantage. He said there was 100 pounds more downforce with the lid removed and almost another 100 with the window latches open.

On a car that begins with about 1,500 pounds of downforce, that's considerable.

John Darby, the series director for NASCAR's premier series, said the penalty was in line with others that help create a downforce advantage.

"We've ejected crew chiefs from events for the same thing," he said. "It's the same thing that the 29 car [Kevin Harvick] got in trouble for at Talladega. That the 17 [Matt Kenseth] and 9 [Kasey Kahne] got in trouble for at Daytona. Nothing new. Everybody knows what it does."

The way lids are held down at Roush also was part of considerable debate. Most teams use three to four bolts to anchor the lid that rests directly behind the driver's seat. Roush uses one bolt and a flange at the opposite end to take weight out of the car.

He doesn't plan to change.

Darby said there are no plans to mandate a method of holding the lids down, noting it is unfair to punish the rest of the garage because of one team. And while there is no rule mandating the window latches be locked, there is no question "we would prefer everything locked down like it's supposed to be."

Roush agreed on that point, saying he would check to make sure there were no more issues with the latches because of the safety issue if a window flew out.

White said safety was his biggest issue with the lid as well.

"Everybody keeps harping on the performance," he said. "If you go back to 2000 when Jeremy Mayfield won the race at Fontana [Calif.] they took him straight to the medical center for third-degree burns on the back of his [neck] because his oil tank lid was open just like Carl's.

"The comment I made was I don't know if it was intentional or not, but stuff is not supposed to fall off race cars, especially Jack Roush's race cars, because he said so."

Roush reiterated nothing was done intentionally, particularly after a handful of Nationwide Series cars were penalized for a similar offense after Daytona.

"How long have you known me?" he told a small group of reporters. "Do you think I'm stupid?"

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

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