The 10: Cheating Controversies

Junior Johnson’s "Yellow Banana"

Rules and rule breakers have always been a hot topic in NASCAR, dating back to the first Strictly Stock race in 1949.

And no one knows it more than the people in the sport.

Former NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr. once said, "Someone always will figure out how to get around the rules, even though we try to make them as clear as possible. Lawyers and accountants have been doing that with the tax code for years."

With that in mind, here are 10 of the most famous NASCAR cheating controversies.

10. GLENN DUNAWAY RACE NO. 1 – NASCAR’s first race in the Strictly Stock Series – the precursor to today’s Sprint Cup Series – took place at the old Charlotte Speedway in 1949. Dunaway won on the track, but his 1947 Ford failed post-race inspection. That’s because team owner Hubert Westmoreland, a moonshiner, had installed heavy-duty "bootlegger rear springs" designed to keep the rear-end up with a couple hundred gallons of ‘shine in the trunk. Jim Roper was declared the race winner. Westmoreland sued NASCAR and lost.

9. RCR HAMMERED HARD – Clint Bowyer won the first race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Loudon, N.H., in 2010. But his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet failed to meet body template specs after the race. Bowyer lost 150 points to a NASCAR penalty, and his crew chief and car chief each were suspended for four races. The penalty all but killed any hopes Bowyer had at winning the championship that year.

8. LONG’S BIG (KIND OF) ENGINE – The most brutal penalty ever handed down by NASCAR may have been the one they socked low-budget racer Carl Long with in 2009. After practice for the Sprint Showdown, a non-points, last-chance qualifying race to get into the Sprint All-Star race, Long’s engine was found to be 0.17 cubic inches too large. He was fined $200,000 and 200 points, a fortune for the struggling racer. Too this day, Long is not allowed inside the Sprint Cup garage at any track because he hasn’t paid the fine.

7. JEFF BURTON’S ROOF – In May 1997, Jeff Burton’s Roush Racing Ford Thunderbird showed up at Talladega with a roof that had been heavily modified by an outside vendor. The roof laps – which, ironically, team owner Jack Roush had invented – were relocated five inches forward, contrary to the rules. Sections of the roof were also lowered to provide improved aerodynamics. NASCAR officials were so incensed  with the roof-flap modifications that they cut the roof off the car entirely, destroying it.

6. 1976 DAYTONA 500 – The 1976 Daytona 500 is generally regarded as the greatest 500 ever, with David Pearson winning after crashing with Richard Petty on the last lap. Less remembered was the fact that polesitter A.J. Foyt and second qualifier Darrell Waltrip both had their qualifying times disallowed after their respective cars were caught using nitrous oxide to boost horsepower. "If you don’t cheat, you look like an idiot. If you do it and you don’t get caught, you look like a hero. If you do it and get caught, you look like a dope. Put me in the category where I belong," Waltrip said at the time.

5. JIMMIE JOHNSON, 2006 DAYTONA 500 – When Jimmie Johnson won his first Daytona 500 in 2006, he did so without crew chief Chad Knaus, who was sent home from Daytona International Speedway and suspended for four races. During post-qualifying inspection, the rear window of Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was found to have a movable device, which unfairly aided aerodynamics. Despite the suspension, Johnson went on to win the race.

4. MICHAEL WALTRIP, 2007 DAYTONA 500 – The 2007 season marked the arrival of Toyota into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, a move that drew tremendous attention from fans and the media. One of the Toyota team owners was Michael Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 winner. But after qualifying, Waltrip’s car was found to have tainted fuel, with a mysterious performance enhancing substance discovered in its fuel cell. NASCAR suspended Waltrip’s crew chief indefinitely, seized his car and fined him 100 points. He raced his way into the 500 anyway.  

3. SMOKEY YUNICK’S 7/8thS CHEVY – In 1967, Chevrolet was not active in stock-car racing as a manufacturer. But Smokey Yunick showed up at the Daytona 500 with an unsponsored Chevrolet Chevelle, and Curtis Turner put it on the pole, besting the heavily funded factory Ford and Chrysler teams. It was a huge upset. "This would be like a Peugeot coming in and winning the pole today in a stock-car race," said former Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler. Turns out the car was only 7/8ths scale, which is why it was so fast. Narrower and shorter than stock, it pushed a lot less air.

2. JUNIOR JOHNSON’S "YELLOW BANANA" – Ford Motor Co. began the 1966 season boycotting NASCAR over engine regulations. But at Atlanta in August, car owner Junior Johnson broke ranks with the other Ford teams, showing up with a Ford Galaxie that looked more like an NHRA Funny Car than a NASCAR stock car. Johnson’s "Yellow Banana" had a chopped roofline, a slanted windshield and wildly contoured fenders, all in hopes of improved aerodynamics. Miraculously, it was permitted to race. Rumors were that Johnson was promised by NASCAR founder Bill France that the car would be allowed to race no matter what.

1. RICHARD PETTY’S BIG ENGINE – Richard Petty’s 198th NASCAR Sprint Cup race victory came amidst great controversy. It was October 1983 at the Miller High Life 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Petty won that race with left-side tires on the right-side of the car, and an engine that measured 381.983 cubic inches against a maximum allowable limit of 358 c.i. Petty was docked 104 points, but the victory was allowed to stand, amidst great complaints from his rivals. The Junior Johnson-owned second-place car driven by Darrell Waltrip was whisked away from the track before it could be inspected.