Rules infraction bothers Gordon despite Duels win

Updated: February 16, 2007, 8:38 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Four-time Nextel Cup champion Jeff Gordon didn't sleep well on Thursday night.

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Not necessarily because his car failed inspection following the second of two 150-mile qualifying races, but because he was worried people might think his team deliberately cheated.

That's understandable in a week in which five crew chiefs and one vice president for competition have been suspended since Tuesday.

"That's what's bothered me the most," Gordon said. "It's what kept me up all night. People are going to think we did something to circumvent the rules."

NASCAR determined that a parts failure resulted in the rear quarter panel of Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet being too low. Because it was deemed unintentional and gave Gordon no competitive advantage, the penalty was light.

Gordon was forced to move from the second to last row -- 42nd in the 43-car field -- for Sunday's Daytona 500.

"It's easy if you just say the car was low," said Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 champion. "But the car wasn't low on the racetrack. That's why the penalty is what it is. If NASCAR felt like it was any more than that we'd be in the same position as those other guys.

"I wouldn't have a crew chief right now. We'd have our points fined and a monetary fine."

Gordon had reason to be concerned others would question his team's motives. Jeff Burton of Richard Childress Racing was so concerned that he went to the NASCAR hauler to see what part was confiscated.

"It's my opinion what happened to the 24 is just a screwup," Burton said. "The part was beat up pretty badly. It wasn't machined to work that way. It was seen by me as an honest mistake. From what I've seen, it wasn't a performance advantage. I think the punishment met the crime."

Gordon said it will be a challenge going from the back to the front, but not one he can't overcome. "We're going to have to have a real good handling race car and also a fast race car," Gordon said before Friday's practice. "We're going to take not too much speed out of that car and really get the car to handling."

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, said no further penalties would be levied against Gordon's team.

It was the third straight day NASCAR's governing body issued penalties at Daytona International Speedway. The crew chiefs for Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler and Scott Riggs were suspended and fined on Tuesday for violations discovered during Sunday's prerace and postrace inspections involving the aerodynamics of their cars.

On Wednesday, Michael Waltrip's crew chief and vice president of competition were suspended indefinitely for an illegal substance found in the engine of the No. 55 Toyota. The crew chief, David Hyder, also was fined $100,000 and, according to sources, he will be fired.

Pemberton said the shock fastener and spacers used to hold the rear shocks that are installed during prerace preparation for restrictor plate races were misaligned on Gordon's car.

He said it likely was a mistake made by the mechanic.

"We felt it was unintentional," Pemberton said. "Actually, it was unsafe. We felt it was a part failure and unintentionally done."

Gordon agreed the penalty fit the crime. "I'm disappointed in ourselves," he said. "We had a failure, which is our responsibility. And those are the types of things that are going to prevent us from winning races and championships."

David Newton covers Nextel Cup for ESPN.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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