HAMPTON, Ga. -- NASCAR is ruling out sabotage, but Nextel Cup series director John Darby did confirm that fuel samples from the cars of Denny Hamlin and Dave Blaney did contain water, which clearly hampered their performance.
Mike Ford, Hamlin's crew chief, said that explains why Hamlin, then leading, appeared to run out of fuel on a restart on lap 324. Hamlin's car "stumbled," Ford said, and Martin Truex Jr. slammed into the back of his car to bring out the 13th caution.
"I was figuring worst-case scenario, we had enough [fuel] to get right to the checkered," Ford said. It was shocking when he was saying he was running out. He had fuel pressure. He said it stumbled coming to the green. Afterward, he said it had fuel pressure -- it just stumbled.
"You just feel like a complete jerk running the thing out six laps shorter than what you think. You just want to know the people around you who have control over what you do work in the detail that you're doing. It just proves that any little thing can crop up and get you. That defines our season. You stay out on a fuel deal, and to the world it looks like you ran out of fuel and wrecked some good race cars when really somebody from somewhere else ... comes in and gets you. It's frustrating, but you're vulnerable."
Darby was huddled with Sunoco officials after receiving the contaminated fuel samples from the two teams.
"What you don't know is when the water got introduced," Darby said. "What doesn't make sense about it, if you look at the 22 and 11, you're dealing with a Chevrolet team and a Toyota team. It's not like three teams out of one organization have the problem.
"We're trying to backtrack to see where this came from. There's no reason to think about conspiracy, going back to the fact you have a Chevrolet team and a Toyota team. There's no connection there that would make anybody thing of some evil spirit trying to sabotage somebody's race car. Our focus is on trying to understand where the water came from, especially in one of the largest drought states."
Angelique Chengelis covers NASCAR for ESPN.