MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Andy Graves, the team manager for Chip Ganassi Racing's three-car team that includes Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears, isn't surprised NASCAR faces controversy for not black-flagging Dale Earnhardt Jr. after he drove below the yellow line during last Sunday's race at Talladega, Ala. In fact, Graves thinks controversy will always be part of stock car racing. He took time out before Sunday's Virginia 500 at the Martinsville Speedway to talk about the politics of the sport.
Q: Given the problems NASCAR has had lately interpreting its own rulebook, is there a better way to rule the sport?
A: "NASCAR has got a great show, and I guess we're not going to always agree with all their calls. A dictatorship I believe is still the best way to run a racing series. It seems like the last couple of years here we've gotten the short end of the stick, but it's their show."
Q: Is it difficult to follow the rules when NASCAR is so selective when they enforce them?
A: "It doesn't really matter what the rules are at the end of the day. It's just like Sterling said, as long as they're consistent with their calls. The last two weeks, I think they've made a couple of blunders remaining consistent."
Q: Your driver, Sterling Marlin, was penalized with a stop-and-go penalty at the Daytona 500 for driving below the yellow line. Now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. did essentially the same thing, do you think NASCAR has its favorites?
A: "I talked to Chip after we landed in Charlotte Sunday night, and he asked me what we've done to get on the bad side of things. We kind of laughed about it. I'm definitely going to address it this weekend and talk with them and see where their heads are. I kind of see some of these statements from Mr. (Jim) Hunter (NASCAR vice president) saying he didn't improve his position when he was below the line because he was already past. From the replay I've seen and from the angle I've seen, and maybe they have a different replay with a different angle, but (Earnhardt Jr.) wasn't clear of Matt. He was alongside. From the way they've explained the rule to me in the past, including Sunday morning in the spotters' meeting, the only way you can be forced below the line is if you're beside someone. When you're alongside someone, you have not completed the pass, so I'm a little confused there. I'd just like to find out where their heads are."
Q: Then how do you explain their decision?
A: "I'm not sure why they made that call. They felt it was a judgment call and that was their judgment or choice. When I looked from on top of the spotters' stand and I look down and see a lot of people cheering, it seems like a lot of them have red shirts on with the No. 8 (Earnhardt Jr.'s car number), so I don't know if that influences their call or not."
Q: When Marlin was black-flagged at Daytona, did you ask for an explanation of the yellow line rule?
A: "We were told at Daytona after we got black flagged and we went up in the truck, we were told the only two excuses whatsoever for going below the yellow line were if the guy in front of you blew a motor or if he ran out of gas. To my understanding, that means he's not under power and you have to go below the yellow line to not run into him. As far as I know, I don't think Matt ran out of gas there, and I'm pretty positive he didn't blow up or ignitions went out. I'm not sure why they can justify the calls."
Q: You've also worked with IndyCars. Is that organization any better or worse than NASCAR?
A: "I've got a contract with Chip, and my contract with Chip is to go racing. In 2001, we won Indy, the Indianapolis 500 and then he decided he wanted to start a Winston Cup team and he brought me down here. If Chip called tomorrow and said 'Andy I need you to pack up and go help with the IRL team' or start back in CART, then that's what I'd do. I just love racing. My personal opinion on this - and this is not the view of the organization - at the end of the day NASCAR still has the best game in town. The racing is great. They have a lot of competitive people, and I love it. Sometimes the calls you get or the way they're orchestrated isn't the way we do it, but as I stated earlier, I think dictatorship is the best way to run the series and I enjoy it quite a bit."