CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – A former employee of Richard Childress Racing says in a wrongful termination lawsuit that the team used illegal engine modifications at this year’s Daytona 500 events, including in the car of polesitter Jeff Burton.

When Childress was told of the problem, the owner responded by saying: “All teams do something to enhance performance,” according to the lawsuit, filed by Anthony Corrente and reported Thursday on the Charlotte Observer’s Web site.

An RCR spokesman told the Observer that the allegations in the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Mecklenburg County Superior Court, are untrue.

When reached by The Associated Press on Thursday night, RCR spokesman David Hart would only say that the team would issue a response Friday.

Corrente, hired as RCR’s assistant manager for engine research and development, lost his job earlier this year. His lawsuit alleges wrongful termination, defamation and breach of contract against the team, which fields Nextel Cup cars for Burton, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer.

Corrente said an engine on Harvick’s No. 29 Chevrolet was altered for the Budweiser Shootout to allow more air to enter, meant to thwart the carburetor restrictor planes used at Daytona. He said he found the alteration in a post-race inspection.

“Inserts were placed in the four outside corners of the cylinder head where the manifold is attached,” the lawsuit says.

Bolts around the plate, when tightened, hit the inserts, leaving room for air come through. More air theoretically can boost power.

Burton used another engine with the same modifications when he won the pole for this year’s Daytona 500, the lawsuit says. Burton’s engine passed NASCAR inspection following the qualifying session.

Corrente signed a three-year contract with a two-year renewal at RCR after he left Joe Gibbs Racing in July 2005. He said people at RCR began inquiring immediately about how engines were constructed at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Plaintiff (Corrente) refused to divulge any information about his former employers engines,” the lawsuit states. “At this time Plaintiff began to be a little suspicious about why he had been hired.”

Corrente said he was fired in May during a test at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. He said he declined to sign a deal offering him two months’ severance pay in exchange for his resignation, then was eventually fired.

RCR heads into Sunday’s race in Dover, Del., on top of the points standings for the first time since 1999. Kevin Harvick moved into the lead following his win in New Hampshire, his fourth victory of the season.

The win was slightly tainted after the race when a reporter on Speed TV claimed NASCAR inspectors had discovered illegal modifications on Harvick’s car. RCR and NASCAR both vehemently denied the report, and Harvick said be believes a rival team spread erroneous information in an attempt to rattle his team.

AP-ES-09-21-06 2120EDT

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