DOVER, Del. (AP) – Jeff Burton says the only hot air surrounding his team comes from false allegations of cheating, not the kind leaked by manipulated rims.

Kevin Harvick was firmly focused on keeping his lead in the points standings, and not on possibly planted stories that would only serve to distract from his performance at Dover.

But both Richard Childress Racing drivers vehemently denied on Friday a Speed TV report that claimed they were manipulating their wheels to gain a performance advantage in New Hampshire. NASCAR and RCR strongly denied the accusation, but Speed TV stands by its report.

“What makes me angry is that this is a lie,” the usually unflappable Burton said.

Even worse for Burton than the cheating allegations is another dreaded “C” word – conspiracy. Because both Burton and Harvick’s cars passed inspection, Burton says NASCAR would have knowingly had to let the teams slide by for the story to be true.

“If our sport doesn’t have the ability to separate fact from fiction, then our sport is in major, major trouble,” said Burton, who starts 19th and enters the race 64 points behind Harvick.

But bending the rules in NASCAR is just as much a part of the sport as turning left and sponsorship deals. What RCR is accused of doing in the report – using “bleeder valves” that slowly release air pressure in tires after the race – is not even illegal. The practice falls into a gray area of the rulebook that teams are supposed to respect.

Maybe it’s not quite a conspiracy, but Harvick believes someone with a grudge planted the story. If they thought it would be enough to rattle him, Harvick says absolutely not.

Some of NASCAR’s elite were mostly amused by the timing of the charges.

“I think if anybody likes to play mind games, it would be the Childress guys, and not anyone else,” said Jeff Gordon, fourth in the standings.

According to the report, NASCAR told the RCR teams it could not bring the modified rims back to the race track. Burton says that’s not true. The team brought the same wheels from New Hampshire.

“They’ve still got the ‘laser-cut slots’ on them,” Burton said, in a mock evil tone.

Harvick used humor and was a bit more diplomatic in brushing off the allegations. Of course, he can be a bit more relaxed since no driver is on a hot streak quite like the NASCAR leader. With two consecutive wins, and three in the last six races, the No. 29 team is the early team to beat in the Chase for the championship.

And that’s not the only hit on RCR this week. A former employee of RCR said 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 Burton.

In a statement issued Thursday night, Childress said the allegations in the lawsuit are “absolutely untrue.”

While all RCR parties deny any charges of unfair play, it’s not like the team is full of squeaky clean, abide-by-the-rules members. Harvick crew chief Todd Berrier was suspended twice last season for bending the rules.

“The biggest thing was that someone boldfaced, blatantly lied to create a story that started swirling around us that we didn’t deserve to be a part of,” Burton said.

Harvick and Burton both hope strong finishes will put this story behind them.

“Don’t read much into it other than when you’re running good, you’re going to have these things pop up,” Harvick said.

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