Four crew chiefs tossed from Daytona 500
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR put the hammer down on Tuesday.
If NASCAR is really serious about ending the cheating -- and there's no sign officials are despite Tuesday's penalties -- they'll toss drivers from races, writes Terry Blount. Story
In an effort to send a strong message that cheating is not tolerated in the Nextel Cup Series, the governing body suspended an unprecedented four crew chiefs for Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500.
Kenny Francis and Robbie Reiser, the crew chiefs for Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth, were suspended a total of four races and fined $50,000 each for violations discovered during post-qualifying inspection on Sunday.
In addition, Kahne and Kenseth were docked 50 championship points and their car owners, Ray Evernham and Jack Roush, were docked 50 owners' points.
The drivers were docked 25 championship points each and Evernham was docked 25 owner points for each.
It is the first time in Cup history that four crew chiefs were sent home from one race.
All four can appeal, which would allow them to participate in the 500 because the hearing would not take place until after the race. Geoff Smith, the president of Roush Racing, is considering an appeal for Reiser. Evernham was undecided.
"It's our job to escalate penalties," France said. "It will be undeniable that when you keep pushing the system and test the integrity of the sport, we will do whatever it takes.
"It doesn't mean you go out and get somebody in the electric chair, but it does mean you step up penalties that make it a true deterrent. Even when we do that, somebody without much to lose or somebody that thinks they're smarter than somebody else will always try," he said.
No announcement was made on the infraction involving Michael Waltrip, whose Toyota was impounded and intake manifold confiscated after an unspecified substance was discovered in the manifold before qualifying.
Officials at the Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., continue to investigate the substance which has been speculated to be Sterno -- a jellied, canned alcohol product sold for heating uses, primilary in the food-service industry -- by engine specialists of several other teams.
NASCAR will break down the rest of the car on Wednesday to determine if Waltrip will be allowed to use it in Thursday's 150-mile qualifying race that sets the rest of the 500 field behind pole-sitter David Gilliland and Ricky Rudd of Robert Yates Racing.
NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said Waltrip could be forced to his backup car if further evidence is found.
NASCAR chairman Brian France, giving his annual state of the sport address, hopes the penalties send a message that the governing body will fight to maintain the integrity of the sport.
This is the second straight year that a crew chief has been sent home from the 500. Chad Knaus was ejected a year ago after a device designed to raise the rear window of Jimmie Johnson's car was discovered during post-qualifying inspection.
Knaus was suspended three additional races and fined $25,000, but no points were taken. Johnson went on to win the 500 with interim crew chief Darian Grubb and eventually won the championship.
"Rest assured no alarm button is going off," said France, who last year expressed concern about the increased regularity of violations. "Integrity matters. Whatever it takes we will come forward and figure that out."
If that ultimately means suspending the driver, France said that will occur.
"We will do whatever it takes," he said. "What you don't want to do is jump into the electric chair. You want to escalate penalties. We're going to get tough with the competitors when they push the credibility of the sport.
"[But] we've got to have the punishment to fit the crime. We can't get completely silly about it. We have to be tough, firm and clear, and we're going to do that," he said.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, said there were air ducts near the rear wheel tub and oil tank area on the interior side of the cars of Kahne and Kenseth that should have been sealed off for qualifying.
He said the caps on those areas were not sealed on Kenseth's car, allowing them to come off during qualifying. He said the caps on Kahne's car were duct-taped on in a manner where they would come off.
The result created an aerodynamic advantage and their qualifying times were thrown out, meaning they will start at the rear in their 150-mile qualifying race.
Pemberton said holes were drilled in the fasteners that hold the spoiler to the deck lid of the cars of Riggs and Sadler to help leak air out of the trunk area and create an aerodynamic advantage.
Their laps were allowed because the infraction was fixed before qualifying. Riggs was 49th fastest among 61 cars and Sadler 20th.
Pemberton is not surprised that teams continue to bend the rules despite NASCAR's effort to catch them.
"There's a lot of pressure to perform here," he said. "It is Daytona. Everybody pushes the limit all the time. It's highly competitive. These guys are going to do everything they can to take everything right to the edge. It's the biggest race of the year."
NASCAR began investigating Waltrip's car because his qualifying lap (183.899 mph) was two miles per hour faster than his average practice speeds.
Waltrip is one of three owners for Toyota, which is making its Cup debut at Daytona. Toyota officials will wait until after NASCAR's investigation to comment.
Evernham, who was fined a record $60,000 when he was the crew chief for Jeff Gordon in 1996, apologized in a prepared statement to his partners at Dodge, the fans and NASCAR.
"Once we conduct a thorough review of NASCAR's findings we will determine the proper course of action to take," he said. "We did not intend to infringe on the rules and will research this matter to ensure it does not occur again."
Roush named long-time engineer Chip Bolin as his interim crew chief throughout Reiser's suspension.
"I respect and accept NASCAR's determination that the car was out of compliance," he said. "I feel certain, however, that there was no intention on Robbie's part to sidestep any NASCAR rule or policy in this regard."
Reiser doesn't have a history of violating rules, and Kenseth doesn't have a history of qualifying well.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed with the penalty and the fact that I won't be at the Daytona 500 and for the following races," Reiser said. "It was my job to ensure that the cap on the wheel well was properly secured.
"But it came off during our qualifying run and we ended up outside of the rules because of it. I understand NASCAR has a set of rules and we have to abide by them and it's ultimately my responsibility to do that," he said.
David Newton covers auto racing for ESPN.com.
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