Kahne's director back at track just in time for COT

Updated: March 22, 2007, 10:04 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Kenny Francis returned Thursday from a four-race suspension from the Nextel Cup series at the same place he left more than a month ago.

The inspection station.

NASCAR suspended Francis, the team director for Kasey Kahne, when it was discovered during qualifying inspection for the Daytona 500 that holes had been drilled in the bolts that connect the rear spoiler.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, said the holes gave the No. 9 Dodge a competitive advantage.

Team owner Ray Evernham insisted the team has been drilling holes in the bolts for a year for weight purposes. Francis said the penalty, which also included a 50-point deduction for Kahne, was too severe.

He also wasn't surprised that the National Stock Car Racing Commission did not overturn the penalty during the appeal process.

"I didn't really expect anything of it," Francis said on Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway. "Honestly, Ray had to do what he had to do. I didn't really expect any different outcome from what we had."

Francis has put the suspension behind him. He's more focused on getting Kahne, 36th in points, back in the championship race and making sure the Evernham Motorsports Car of Tomorrow is ready for Sunday's race.

All 50 teams that will attempt to qualify on Friday were asked by NASCAR to arrive a day earlier than normal for inspection.

The No. 19 Evernham Motorsports Dodge of Elliott Sadler was the first car through shortly after 10 a.m. Francis' team didn't get through until well after 3 p.m.

For the most part there were no major problems.

"There's definitely little bugs to work out," Francis said. "The teams still don't have quite all the templates, so you can't get perfect measurements for them.

"It's just as much a learning process for them as it is for us. They told us a lot of the things that had to be right and some of the things they were going to give a little on, but all the major points had to be right."

Teams took on average about 80 minutes to get through inspection, which took slightly longer than the normal process because officials spent more time answering questions and educating crew members on the process.

Many teams brought extra fabricators just in case.

Francis said his biggest obstacle up to this point has been getting parts.

"You think about it, you're starting 50 new race teams trying to build three or four cars all at the same time, so the suppliers are just overwhelmed," he said. "It's been tough getting parts.

"A lot of the parts are different dimensions, so everybody is having to build brand-new stuff."

Inspectors worked about 90 minutes past their original 7 p.m. deadline to complete the process. Francis said the best thing about Thursday was getting a feel for the flow of everything.

He said it didn't seem so long to him because inspectors spent extra time going over his car at Daytona.

"It took just as long," he said with a laugh.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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