Its All A Matter Of Who Gets Caught When

There are three things in life you can count on death, taxes and cheating in NASCAR.

It happens all the time, it's just a matter of getting caught or whether or not NASCAR wants to catch the culprit. Think of it as a motorsports game of cat and mouse, or perhaps a war of wits. Whose smarter, the crews or NASCAR?

Part of the problem involves the sanctioning body. There are "gray areas" that exist in the infamous NASCAR rulebook which encourage wrench wizards to become extremely creative. Just take a trip by "tech" -- the inspection line -- on Friday morning or Sunday before the race and check out the illegal equipment that have been removed from the cars.

Sometimes the attempts at skirting the rules are just so blatant that NASCAR has to take measures, especially when the move is one that could present danger to other competitors on the track. At Darlington when the No. 97 Roush Racing Ford driven by Chad Little was "so cheated up" with removable bars of weight, it resembled something out of Junior Johnson's garage. While the crew scurried to get the car through tech, team owner Jack Roush stood on the sidelines and shook his head. It was amazing that a crew chief the caliber of Jeff Hammond would attempt to do something so stupid.

But NASCAR has its favorites and Roush can attest to that. Certain teams are just scrutinized more closely than others, just ask Roush about the championship that got away. Which championship, you might ask.

The experience has taught Roush not to fight the system. After all, this might finally be the year that Mark Martin (knock on wood) wins the championship.

"There's only so much that one person or one team owner can do," Roush said. "In the past, I've tried to do things that were beyond my power and that's resulted in great frustration. There will be a common truth that will unfold over a period of races and I'm not going to be the one to be telling everybody where it's going, I'm going to stand back and watch it unfold. On some of these more contentious issues, I may speak more off the record than on the record this year."

Even the fair-haired boys of NASCAR like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt have tempted fate with the powers that be. It would be hard to forget the No. 24's titanium wheel rolling down the frontstretch at Lowe’s Motor Speedway or the chassis of the T-Rex in The Winston that was so clean, NASCAR told Ray Evernham never to bring it back to the track. It will be interesting to see what state-of-the-art goodies Evernham devises for Dodge.

Earnhardt, who was caught up in the Happy Hour skirmish before this year's Daytona 500 with Gordon and Dale Jarrett, left the No. 3 car in serious need of repair. Earnhardt’s crew worked tirelessly on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Apparently, their handy work on the rear spoiler was a little too resourceful and members from opposing crews ratted them out. While we ate our lunch in the Daytona Media Center before the biggest race of the year, the Childress crew was having their Monte Carlo template tested.

It looks like Jeremy Mayfield, driver of the No. 12 Penske-Kranefuss Racing Ford is the latest poster child for NASCAR whipping boys. During the DieHard 500 at Talladega Speedway NASCAR officials -- as they regularly do -- took a sample from his gas can and discovered an oxygen additive in the mix. By creating an oxygen-rich fuel, it would increase the combustion and therefore enhance the car's horsepower.

After nearly two weeks and a three-hour visit to the Penske-Kranefuss shop on Monday, Mike Helton, NASCAR's vice president and Chief operating officer had this to say at Fontana (Calif.) on Friday: "Simply put, we did find an issue with the No. 12 car at Talladega. In today's times, when there is an issue NASCAR has to be as precise and correct as we can be when we react to an issue. This one in particular we felt a need to go to some outside sources to confirm our findings.

Why is it taking NASCAR so long to make a decision? Could this be one of those "no news is good news" scenarios? Maybe Mayfield is off the hook since this week's event is being held at California Speedway, a track founded by Roger Penske, co-owner of the No. 12 and a board member of International Speedway Corporation. But then again, it has never stopped NASCAR from busting Mayfield's teammate Rusty Wallace.

Before NASCAR became a brand and was ultra sponsor-friendly, fuel tampering was a regular occurrence. For every team that was caught, five or 10 infractions went undetected. Now it's only allowed when the nitrous oxide is the official oxygen additive of NASCAR.

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