Brad Keselowski has a propensity for speaking his mind, and he added to that reputation on Thursday when at a fan event for Ford employees.
The defending Sprint Cup champion called out Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing for "stealing" key personnel away from Penske Racing and other Ford-backed teams. His remarks caused a bit of a firestorm in the NASCAR community.
The loss of those crew members has prevented his team, Penske Racing, and fellow Ford team Roush Fenway Racing from exchanging as much information as the manufacturer wished, Keselowski told USA Today.
"... Hendrick and Gibbs have this nasty little habit of going to other teams and outbidding other people and taking those employees and stealing our information," Keselowski told USA Today. "When that happens, that puts walls up between the camps because you are giving up more than one piece of information -- you are giving up two companies' information and trying to protect yourself against that, it forces you to put up walls.
"It doesn't necessarily lend itself to working together."
Rick Hendrick responded to Keselowski's allegations Friday in a statement, saying he was "misinformed" and needed to a better job of representing the sport with "more class."
"The comments Brad reportedly made were misinformed," Hendrick said. "The truth is that we hired one tire changer, who was a backup for Penske and whose contract was up. We also brought over one mechanic from their Nationwide program and, when the Penske engine shop was closing, added a few of those people. What Brad left out was that his organization also hired one of our tire changers.
"Brad misrepresents the facts and spends a lot of time making insinuations and accusations about other teams when he should be focused on his own program and competing at a high level. I hope he figures that out and begins representing himself and the sport with more class."
Joe Gibbs shared similar sentiments as Hendrick in a statement he released Friday. He too had some pointed words for Keselowski.
"Obviously NASCAR is a very competitive environment and we take our hiring processes seriously at JGR" Gibbs said. "The individual he referenced in his comments was working outside of the sport of NASCAR at the time we hired him.
"We have a great deal of respect for Roger Penske and his organization and I feel like I have always had a good personal relationship with Roger. We look forward to competing with Brad on the racetrack, but hope that he will use better judgment in the future before making such misinformed claims and accusations."
The Gibbs and Hendrick teams have combined to win nine of 14 races this season, while Roush and Penske have struggled with just one victory between them. One of the reasons for the lack of performance, according to Keselowski, is due to the decided edge Gibbs and Hendrick have in resources -- particularly monetary.
"There's a reason those two teams are higher up on the boards than us -- they have more money and sponsors to do so," Keselowski told USA Today. "It is terrible. But it is what it is."
Keselowski drove for Hendrick in 2008 and '09, but been quite critical of his former employer since leaving to join Penske as he accused Hendrick of manipulating the NASCAR rule book to find an advantage with its rear suspensions just last year.
Another incident happened when after Penske had rear-end housings confiscated by NASCAR before the April Texas race, Keselowski insinuated someone from Hendrick had been spying on his team and informed officials of a potential rules violations.
The practice of pilfering crew members from rivals isn't new and, to combat this, many organizations sign key employees to contracts that restrict them from joining other team. Jimmie Johnson called it "common within the industry."
"The best employees are under long-term contracts," Johnson said Friday at Michigan. "So, I can't go get the best Penske guys or Roush guys. They can't come get the best pit crew guys. That's just the way it goes. But in every offseason, there's a lot of people changing guys going to different race shops."
Roush driver Greg Biffle backed Keselowski's assertion that the defection of some personnel has affected the lines of communication between his team and Penske. But he also conceded that this is an issue every team faces
"It always hurts because secrecy doesn't hardly exist," Biffle said. "It's so hard because these guys are neighbors or these guys are buddies. They're fishing together and, unfortunately, information gets slipped between teams a lot of times. We know that is part of this sport.
"We're pitted next to each other in the garage. It seems like everybody has spy photographers that are around taking pictures of everything."