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Fighting for survival

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

FONTANA, Calif. – It's hard to know when to take Robby Gordon seriously.

For example, when he gives up a month of his offseason to race a Hummer across the African dessert, you have to.

But then when the race is cancelled because of safety concerns stemming from the murder of 11 tourists at the hands of al-Qaida-linked terrorists, and Gordon responds by saying, "I'm pretty sure in L.A. we kill 11 a night. I'm pretty sure that 11 every night are killed – stabbed, shot, beat up, murdered," it gives you pause.

So Friday when Gordon leveled accusations against NASCAR for playing favorites – and that namely he isn't one of them – you have to consider the source.

"Did you notice what lap the (first) caution came out at Daytona?" Gordon asked outside his hauler at the newly named Auto Club Speedway of Southern California. "The lap I hit pit road – the first debris caution of the day. It's just amazing the way things happen.

"They can paint our picture. We can paint their picture. I feel that we get treated unfairly."

As he said this, Gordon could barely be heard over the roar of an engine, which caused him to look up. The roar was coming from his car, which was parked underneath a tent, staked next to the actual garage where the rest of the Sprint Cup crews were working.

"That's a perfect statement right there," Gordon said. "Everybody gets a garage, and we're outside."

Gordon's frustration mostly stems from the 100-point penalty NASCAR leveled against him Wednesday for an "unapproved" part on his car prior to the Daytona 500. The backstory on that is Gordon made a last-minute manufacturer change from Ford to Dodge, meaning he had to change the nose of his race car, only he received the wrong nose from the Dodge parts warehouse.

When his car went through technical inspection, NASCAR found the nose violated its rules.

Gordon, who's appealing the penalty, is playing dumb, saying neither he nor his crew actively was trying to skirt the rules. And that probably is true. What happened is Dodge sent Gordon the yet-to-be-approved "Charger" nose instead of the approved "Avenger" nose. Gordon's crew put on the nose they received in the mail, and eight days later the car was going through inspection in Daytona.

According to Gordon's crew chief Frank Kerr, who was fined $100,000 and suspended for six races by NASCAR, the noses are so similar it's difficult to detect any difference between the two. In fact, he said, the new nose fit NASCAR's template.

"There's no aero-advantage; there's no nothing. It's looks only," Kerr said. "There was zero intent to cheat here. We were just trying to get to the race track."

NASCAR says it doesn't know if the new nose provides a competitive advantage because they haven't tested it yet.

"One of the reasons we haven't approved it is because we don't know," said John Darby, NASCAR's Sprint Cup competition director.

Darby went on to say the rulebook is pretty clear, which pretty much means if it's on your car, it's your responsibility.

NASCAR has been accused of playing favorites in the past, but Gordon has a tough argument to make this time considering that last year NASCAR docked Dale Earnhardt Jr. 100 points for a rules violation – a penalty that came when the sport's biggest start was in danger of missing the Chase. If there was a time for NASCAR to look the other way, that was it, and it didn't.

Still, Gordon is putting up a fight.

"We’re out there on the edge," he said. "NASCAR put us in a position, to the world, that (makes us) looks like we’re cheating. So now they’re putting us in a severe business situation as well.

"We don't want to fight NASCAR," he continued. "This is not a fight that we put ourselves in. This is just defending ourselves in a situation where we were treated unfairly."

Whether he seriously believes that or not isn't the point. Because when you're the only single-car driver/owner in Sprint Cup racing, and when sponsorship dollars are hard to come by, and when you don't have sponsorship secured for the race in Atlanta in two weeks, you don't really have a choice.

You do what you have to do, which is put up your dukes and fight.

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