CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – NASCAR penalized Robby Gordon on Wednesday for intentionally causing a caution at Atlanta Motor Speedway that affected the race outcome for championship contender Jeff Burton.

Gordon, who owns his own race team, was docked 50 driver points and 50 car owner points, and fined $15,000 for throwing a piece of roll bar padding onto the track during Sunday’s race at Atlanta.

The debris caused NASCAR to call a caution, which helped Gordon to his 10th-place finish but hurt Burton’s final result.

Gordon was also fined $15,000 and placed on probation until the end of the year.

Crew chief Greg Erwin was fined $10,000.

NASCAR reviewed NBC’s coverage from Sunday’s race to determine if Gordon in fact threw debris onto the track. The footage provided two clear angles, and officials followed up with a re-inspection of Gordon’s car.

The results of the two-day investigation convinced NASCAR that Gordon did throw a piece of padding onto the track, and officials issued a harsh penalty to discourage other drivers from doing the same thing in the future.

“It is a very serious matter when a team attempts to manipulate the outcome of a race,” NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said Wednesday.

The caution came out about 35 laps from the finish of the MBNA 500 and benefited Gordon, who was the first car not on the lead lap. He was given NASCAR’s “free pass” to get back on the lead lap and ultimately finished 10th.

But the timing hurt Burton, who was a lap down because of an earlier incident and needed the field to run through a final round of green-flag pit stops to catch up. Burton finished 13th and demanded after the race that NASCAR investigate to determine where the debris came from.

NBC reviewed its race footage, which appeared to show the debris came from Gordon’s car, and presented it to Gordon on live television. He denied throwing anything and suggested he simply ran over debris already on the track.

“I definitely did not throw anything out of the window,” Gordon told the network.

Burton acknowledges that drivers have been intentionally causing cautions for years, but said NASCAR needs to crack down on the practice.

“It’s nothing against Robby Gordon or anyone in particular, I just think we’ve got to be careful not to let the competitors break the rules,” Burton said. “And when they do, NASCAR has got to enforce it.

“The penalty should be large enough to where the next guy doesn’t want to do it. If someone does get by with it, then the next guy is more prone to want to try to do it.”

This is hardly the first time NASCAR has penalized a competitor for intentionally causing a caution.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was docked 25 points and fined $10,000 for intentionally spinning his car to bring out a caution at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2004.

And Kurt Busch was fined $10,000 for intentionally spinning Gordon during the 2002 All-Star race to bring out a caution. Busch admitted it in two separate interviews, contending he caused the wreck because eventual winner Ryan Newman was running away from the field late in the race and he wanted a caution to make the final five laps more competitive.

Upon hearing Busch’s comments, Gordon called him “immature” and said Busch was lucky Gordon was not hurt in the accident.

AP-ES-11-01-06 1720EST

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