MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Michael Waltrip gave a less sensational version Saturday of how his team came to be in possession of a part belonging to one of Jack Roush's teams, saying what Roush asserted was "intellectual espionage" was merely a mistake.
"We didn't know anything about having it until January when they called and said, 'You have our swaybar,' and we said, 'We do?' We told them that we would find it and give it back to them, and that's what we did," Waltrip said before practice Saturday.
The comments came a day after Roush painted a far more sinister picture of the incident, saying the part was stolen, the team that stole it tried to have parts made to fit onto it and that he feared letting on that he knew they even had the part because he figured "it would wind up in the river" rather than be given back.
Roush said he considered getting a search warrant to take to the shop and find the part, but one of his employees called the team without his knowledge and the part was returned.
Roush described the exchange as a "clandestine meeting" between team members at 6 a.m., but Waltrip and others have made the situation out to be less like a best-selling spy novel and more a simple case of a part ending up with the wrong team by accident.
"We wound up with a swaybar there somehow," Waltrip said. "I promise you no one went to their tool box and swiped it. This is not intellectual espionage."
Roush claimed the swaybar had a paint job that identified it as belonging to Roush Fenway Racing, and that the paint had been sandblasted off before it was returned.
"I don't have knowledge of any of that," Waltrip said. "I heard it was painted blue, and when we figured out that it wasn't ours, then it was set off to the side."
The swaybar was retrieved from a storage room when Roush asked for it back, Waltrip said, and the team was not threatened with the legal action Roush said he might pursue to prevent the team from using any information gleaned from the part.
"There were no threats. There was no need to threaten," Waltrip said.
Waltrip jokingly referred additional questions to Jeff Gordon, who joked about the matter Friday, calling the situation "hilarious" and saying the FBI should investigate.
Gordon added: "I really hope Jack's not taking it that serious."
Waltrip began his remarks by saying, "I hope that we don't dignify this with a whole lot of time or effort," but added that he has high regard for his fellow owner.
"If it was truly something that I felt that there was any way that anyone purposely went and got for any specific reason, I could see why he would be upset," he said.
"I respect that man. If you look around this garage area and you see four or five cars on a team, that's him. He's the one that came up with that idea and proved it could be the most effective way to race a car," Waltrip said.
"And so I've always admired Jack, and I will never judge him. I don't know what makes him tick, but I do know that nobody went to his tool box and swiped a swaybar."
Roush's accusations come a little more than a year after Waltrip's Toyota failed inspection at the season-opening Daytona 500 when a suspicious substance was found in his engine. NASCAR said it was a fuel additive and kicked out two of Waltrip's team members. Waltrip was additionally docked 100 points and fined $100,000.
Three weeks ago in Atlanta, Roush and team president Geoff Smith alleged the substance found in Waltrip's engine was rocket fuel. They made the accusation while complaining that their team - which was accused of removing the oil tank cover on Carl Edwards' winning car at Las Vegas - received the same penalties Waltrip did for the fuel additive.