Deja Vu All Over Again; NASCAR VP Pemberton Earned Record $40,000 & 46 Point 1990 Richmond Fine Costing Mark Martin/Jack Roush Cup Championship

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They say what goes around comes around and we talk about deja vu all over again.

There is no doubt that NASCAR VP Robin Pemberton, the guy in the black hat recently for passing out fines and penalties, knows what it feels like to be on the receiving end. Afterall, he was the crew chief for Roush Racing's #6 Mark Martin Ford when it won the Spring 1990 Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond by 3 seconds over 2nd place Dale Earnhardt..

Following the win, the car failed postrace inspection,  although it had passed THREE prerace inspections.

Oh, how I remember that afternoon and evening. Back then the first Richmond race was held in February. I was working my very first race as Media Relations Director at Richmond. It was cold and it had gotten dark. Most of the press contingent had filed their stories and left for home, but those of us left could see Mark's winning car still being hovered around by NASCAR officials in a tent in the infield of Richmond International Raceway.

Suddenly a call came to the press box telling us there was a problem with the carburetor spacer on Mark's winning car and penalties would be forthcoming. They were. The team, crewed by now NASCAR VP, Robin Pemberton,  was fined a then record $40,000 and docked 46 points. They lost the 1990 championship to Dale Earnhardt by just 26 points, costing Martin his best career opportunity to win a championship.

If you want to play "What IF?" - then Richard Petty would still be the only 7-Time NASCAR Champion had that points penalty not stood.

Even the Associated Press writer had left when I got the call in the press box and I called him at home to tell him he'd need to revise his story. Same with the Richmond newspaper writers. It was so late that Mark Martin had already gotten home from the track back in North Carolina.

This was in the days before cell phones, but I had Mark's home telephone number on the event entry blank, so I called him from the Richmond press box to get a comment. It was my distinct and UNFORTUNATE experience to be the first person to tell Mark his car had been deemed illegal. He had no comment and I felt like a real chump. That was the worst telephone call I ever made.

I'm in no way justifying NASCAR's recent penalties, but you better believe Robin Pemberton knows what it feels like to lose $$$, points and a championship. He has been there and done that as a crew chief.

For those of you with sketchy memories or too young to have been part of it, one of my favorite motorsports writers, Sandra McKee of The Baltimore Sun did a retrospective piece 13 years ago in 2000, on the 10th anniversary of that incident 23 years ago. Please read up.

If Jack Roush has a chip on his shoulder, you'll see why.

This all happened before Joe Gibbs hit NASCAR. Perhaps Coach Joe should have a chat with the Cat in the Hat!

Scar from Richmond not healed
Penalty at 1990 race nags at owner Roush
May 04, 2000

By Sandra McKee

The Baltimore Sun

Car owner Jack Roush usually keeps his emotions to himself. But with Saturday night's race at Richmond International Speedway looming, Roush had a flashback to a 10-year-old hurt.

The result was a rare emotional display in which the Winston Cup car owner revealed what he considers a long-standing injustice.

"I feel as bad about what happened at Richmond today as I did the day it happened," Roush said, recalling driver Mark Martin's 1990 victory and the penalty that NASCAR imposed after it. "Because of that ... I almost don't care if I never win a NASCAR championship.

"We'll race to win as many races as possible, but my heart's broke. No one deserves a championship more than Mark Martin."

In 1990, NASCAR had a Winston Cup rule that said that there could only be two inches between the carburetor and the manifold. But at the Daytona 500 that February, NASCAR inspectors had allowed teams to weld the manifold so that it would be an inch higher and to put the two-inch space between the carburetor and the manifold. Altogether, it was a three-inch space allowance.

When the teams rolled into Richmond the following week, Martin's team members went to work setting up his car. In their minds, they had three inches to work with. So, instead of creating the extra space by welding the manifold, they simply bolted on a two-and-a-half inch spacer.

Though the car passed three pre-race inspections, it was ruled illegal after the race. Martin kept the victory, but he was penalized 46 points. At the end of the season, Dale Earnhardt won his fourth title by 26 points over Martin.

"Going by the technical word, we were wrong, because we bolted on the spacer instead of welding it," said Martin. "But they were allowing teams three inches and we were within that. It was a situation in which it didn't impact how the car ran. We could have achieved the same thing legally by welding the spacer instead of using the bolts.

"You could look at that a couple ways. I'm not saying it was right or wrong. It cost me 46 points. I can see how Bill France, sitting in his office, is presented the situation. The rule book says two inches, he is told my team had two and a half inches. He probably didn't know the officials at the track had been allowing three inches."

What really irked Roush was that his Ford had passed through inspection three times prior to the race without anyone finding fault.

"The inspectors had sealed that manifold three times," Roush said. "The situation is that when something is inspected and it's OK before a race, it needs to be OK after the race.

"The luster is way off NASCAR's championships," Roush said.

Martin, who is nothing if not philosophical, said in a phone interview this week, that if he were in Jack's place, he would never have brought up the hurt or expressed such frustration.

"It's easy to print what someone says," Martin said, "but it is very difficult to print what someone really means. Jack has worked very, very hard trying to win and he feels he lost the 1990 titleon a ruling over something that he still doesn't feel was wrong. It wasn't a blatant act, like using illegal parts. His team had done what it believed to be within the rules, and had been approved before the races. And, I think, Jack is real mad because I haven't won the championship. He feels I deserve one and personally, I don't care."

In the 13 years Martin has driven for Roush, they have finished in the Top 5 nine times, including three seconds and four thirds. But, Martin said, winning a Winston Cup title is not going to make him a great driver. He believes his record already speaks for itself, having won 32 Cup races and more than $22 million.

"A championship does not define me as a great race car driver," he said. "If I win one, I'll feel good, but I won't feel different. I don't want to diminish the championship. It is the crown jewel, the ultimate success. But don't lose sight of everything else. Greatness is what a driver does week-in, week-out and what they do to stay on top. If you want to play the lotto, good for you if you win, but don't slit your wrist if you lose.

"If I had slit my wrist after Richmond in 1990, I wouldn't have the opportunity I have now to try to win this championship this season."

And Martin thinks he is definitely in the running for the 2000 crown. He is second in points, with at least half of the races that give him and his team trouble behind him. And he is going into tomorrow's qualifying with the knowledge that Richmond International Raceway is one of his favorites.

"Bristol is a short track that provides a great show under the lights, but Richmond gets the award from the competitors as well as the fans," Martin said. "It is shaped and banked and laid out in such a way that passing is not a major problem."

And there is something else different about a night race.

Martin said from inside his car, it may not be as easy for him to see it, but, he added, even he feels it.

"There is something different when the sky is black and the lights pop off the shape of the cars," he said. "Even the air feels different in your lungs. I don't know what it is, but there's that high school football game feeling of excitement even before the race starts."

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Replies to This Discussion

Yes sir, the Pembertons know cheating as a fine art.  One of the big problems I have trying to explain NASCAR to the non-NASCAR fan, is how a car can pass inspection before the race and then fail after the race. One guy a church raises this with me often and I really don't have answers anymore. 

What gripes ms is video of Pemberton sitting on his fat, smug arse looking over his glasses explaining NASCAR's side of the issue.  Common sense has sooner or later got to catch up with those people in Daytona Beach.  Intent and the lack of any advantage has got to be considered when this shakes out but I have a strange feeling that it won"t.  And while a couple of times the "appeals committe" has exercised some common sense, I have a feeling that the panel of butt kissing
"yes men" won't this time.


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