Nascar drivers get caught speeding

Published 8:34 am Wednesday, February 14, 2007

By By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — NASCAR took its strongest stance against cheating Tuesday, suspending the crew chiefs for Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs and Elliott Sadler and docking all four drivers points before the season-opening Daytona 500 for failing inspections.
Kahne, Riggs and Sadler are teammates at Evernham Motorsports. Kenseth, the 2003 series champion and runner-up last season, drives for Roush Racing.
Robbie Reiser, crew chief for Kenseth, and Kenny Francis, crew chief for Kahne, were suspended four races. Rodney Childers, crew chief for Riggs, and Josh Brown, crew chief for Sadler, were suspended two races.
All four crew chiefs can appeal, a process that could allow them to work the Great American Race. If they do and the committee cannot schedule a hearing before Sunday’s race, they would be allowed to participate.
But Roush Racing already has a replacement for Reiser, and said the 500 will be the first race he has missed since the team’s inception in 1999 — a stretch of 255 races.
Reiser and Francis may not appeal because delaying the suspension could force them to miss the debut of the Car of Tomorrow at Bristol Motor Speedway in March.
In toughening its penalties, NASCAR made the unprecedented move of taking points away before the season has even started. Kahne and Kenseth were docked 50 points apiece, while Riggs and Sadler lost 25 each.
Reiser and Francis also were fined $50,000 each, while Childers and Brown were fined $25,000 each.
All four drivers will start the season with negative points — a move that most likely infuriated the teams, but sent a strong message that NASCAR will no longer tolerate rule-breakers.
NASCAR is still investigating Michael Waltrip’s startup Toyota team, which failed a pre-qualifying inspection and had a key part shipped back to North Carolina for further analysis.
It’s the second straight season that NASCAR’s biggest event has been marred by cheating scandals. Last year, Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief was sent home for four races when he was caught cheating in qualifying. Johnson won the race without Chad Knaus, who rejoined the team in March and helped Johnson win the Nextel Cup title.
NASCAR did not strip points from Johnson because the sanctioning body had been reluctant to force a team to start the season in the red. But after three cars failed inspection during Sunday’s qualifying session, NASCAR decided it had up the ante to deter teams from continuously pushing the envelope.
The actions come at a time when chairman Brian France is attempting to jump-start the family business, which seemed to plateau last season after years of booming popularity. With television ratings down, attendance at a standstill and France still trying to match the NFL’s broad appeal, NASCAR felt it had to crack down on cheating.
Still, NASCAR stopped short of kicking the teams out of the race, a move many believe would be the ultimate punishment.
Kenseth and Kahne had their qualifying times thrown out after inspectors discovered illegal holes in the wheel wells, which could have improved aerodynamics.
Evernham maintained the holes had been covered with duct tape that apparently fell off before the Dodge was inspected. But Pemberton said NASCAR believed the tape had been cut.
Riggs and Sadler’s cars both had modifications that allowed air to leak out of the trunk area. It was discovered before qualifying and had not been announced by NASCAR before Tuesday.
Waltrip, meanwhile, had a suspicious substance in the intake manifold of his Camry. The part was seized before qualifying, and the car was impounded after the session.
Inspectors plan to examine the car Wednesday, and NASCAR has not decided if it will be returned to Waltrip in time for Thursday’s qualifying races. No penalties have been decided as NASCAR continues investigating.
Waltrip is the marquee face of Toyota, which is making its Nextel Cup debut this season. It was uncertain if the two-time Daytona 500 winner would make the race. Now it’s unclear if NASCAR will allow him to race in Thursday’s qualifiers because he’s facing an even stiffer penalty.