Kenseth, Kahne fail inspections, face penalties
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne failed inspection after qualifying Sunday for the Daytona 500, and their teams could face harsh penalties before NASCAR's season opener.
Their qualifying times were disallowed after inspectors discovered illegal modifications in each car. NASCAR said Kenseth's Ford had illegal holes in the wheel well and Kahne's Dodge also had illegal holes in an unspecified location. The holes may have improved the aerodynamics of their cars.
It's the second consecutive year NASCAR discovered violations following pole qualifying. Last year, crew chief Chad Knaus was thrown out of the race after Jimmie Johnson's car failed inspection. Knaus was suspended four races. Johnson rebounded to win the Daytona 500 the following week and they eventually reunited and won the Nextel Cup championship.
"We are committed to try to stop all the games being played," NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said. "Obviously, the parties involved are going to have to tell the story however they want to tell it. But NASCAR is charged with maintaining the integrity in that garage area and we're going to do whatever we need to do to do it."
Hunter said NASCAR officials were planning to discuss the situation Sunday night, and that penalties could be expected Monday or Tuesday.
Michael Waltrip's car also was impounded after inspectors found a questionable substance inside the intake manifold. Waltrip was allowed to replace the manifold and qualify, but then the car was taken so NASCAR could go through it with "a fine tooth comb."
Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion and last year's runner-up, and Kahne, who finished eighth last season, will be allowed in the qualifying races Thursday. But they will have to start from the back of the pack in the second 150-mile race.
"I am surprised, but at the same token, our inspection process gets better every year," Hunter said.
STERLING STREAK: Sterling Marlin's streak of consecutive starts in the Daytona 500 will continue.
Marlin, a two-time winner of the Great American Race, earned a starting spot in the Feb. 18 opener by posting one of the fastest laps in pole qualifying Sunday.
"What a relief," said Marlin, who extended his streak to 26 consecutive Daytona 500 starts. "That's a huge relief for this team and a lot of weight taken off of our shoulders."
The top 35 drivers from 2006 are assured spots in the 500, and their starting positions will be determined by a pair of qualifying races next week.
Marlin finished outside the top 35 and either had to have one of the top three qualifying times Sunday or race his way in Thursday -- a risky proposition considering 22 drivers will be vying for four open positions in the 43-car field.
Marlin was glad to get it out of the way sooner rather than later.
"We would've had another shot to make the race, but now that we're locked in, we can focus on getting a top starting spot for the 500," Marlin said. "We've been fast since we unloaded and we were happy with the way our Waste Management Chevy drove in the pack during testing. I love this race track and I'm glad I can stop worrying about making the show and start focusing on winning it."
Marlin won NASCAR's biggest race in 1994 and 1995, becoming the third driver to post consecutive Daytona 500 victories. The other two were Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough.
C'MON OVER: If Michael Schumacher wants a ride in NASCAR, Ray Evernham has one waiting for him.
Evernham, who works with German company DaimlerChrysler, has issued an open invitation to the seven-time Formula One champion to give stock car racing a try.
The German driver retired from racing red Ferraris after the 2006 season. Asked recently about Juan Pablo Montoya leaving F1 to drive in NASCAR, Schumacher told The New York Times: "Personally, I wouldn't do it. What do you do in NASCAR? What is exciting there? I can't see that, running around on ovals."
But Evernham would like him to reconsider.
"I'll put him in a red car, a real good car, any time he wants to come over here and try it," he said. "A lot has changed in recent years. These cars are looked on as much more sophisticated than they used to be. I think he'd find them technical enough to keep him happy."
SMALLER FUEL CELLS: NASCAR announced Sunday it will use 13-gallon fuel tanks in the Nextel Cup and Busch races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in early March, hoping to offset increased speeds by forcing teams to change tires more frequently.
Banking was increased from 12 to 20 degrees and the track was repaved, causing speeds to rise during a recent test session. If cars raced with the typical 18-gallon fuel tank, tire wear might be a problem and could pose safety concerns.
NASCAR hopes the change will reduce that risk.
But not everyone was convinced that would correct the real problem.
"I'm glad that they're going to do something to make it safer for drivers," car owner Ray Evernham said. "I just wish there were a better way to figure out what the actual problems were so that we didn't have to have a knee-jerk reaction with the car to take care of an inadequate tire situation."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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