DAYTONA 500 Rusty Wallace, crew chief penalized for illegal carburetor
The team was thankful that points were not deducted.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Rusty Wallace was booted 30 spots down the starting grid for the Daytona 500 and his crew chief was fined $10,000 for using an illegal carburetor in his qualifying race.
The carburetor in Wallace's car did not meet the minimum size requirements when it was inspected after his fourth-place finish in Thursday's qualifying race.
NASCAR on Friday disqualified his finish -- stripping him of his $28,720 in prize money -- and forced him to use a provisional to start Sunday's season-opening race.
He was due to start eighth, but will now start 38th. The movement minimally affected the rest of the 43-car field.
"We're just embarrassed about the whole thing," Wallace said. "Mentally, I'm a little down right now. I'm OK with the penalty, I just hate that it happened."
One week early
The specifications for restrictor-plate races are different than any other tracks on the circuit, and Winston Cup director John Darby said the carburetor that crew chief Billy Wilburn used would be legal next weekend at North Carolina Speedway.
NASCAR did not dock any points from Wallace; since the season hasn't started, he doesn't even have any. That's a break from the pattern it began last season of docking 25 points in the penalty process.
"I don't know if we want to dip into the world of starting somebody out in negative points," Darby said.
Wilburn said the deduction of points was what the team feared most.
"We're just ecstatic they didn't take any points," he said. "We did not want to start the year in a hole like that."
The decision was announced four hours after the garage closed Friday, so Wallace's crew was forced to play the waiting game for most of the day, not even putting the car on the track.
Wallace made a brief visit to the track, stopping in the NASCAR hauler for an update before walking over to his garage stall and peering under the hood as his team changed the engine.
The frustration was clear on Wilburn's face, though, as he scraped a decal off the front fender. He was unsure of what NASCAR had found wrong with the carburetor and insisted if there was a problem, it was unintentional and not an attempt to cheat.
"We're still in disbelief that it happened. ... We just had one of the wrong carburetors on the truck," said Wallace, who is winless in 20 Daytona 500 starts. "We didn't check it, and we're paying for it now."
NASCAR requires restrictor plates that diminish air flow to the carburetor, thereby sapping horsepower. By tinkering with the carburetor even the slightest bit, it's possible the Penske Racing team was trying to sneak more air to the engine. Since the air openings were smaller than required, it's more likely the effect was in the way the air lined up when it reached the engine.
The infraction came in Wallace's first race in a Dodge Intrepid after moving over from Ford this season. In addition, sponsor Miller Lite had promised a voucher for a free six-pack of beer to all fans of legal drinking age should Wallace win the Daytona 500.
"Roger Penske is embarrassed, it's our first race with Dodge and Miller is doing a big promotion," Wallace said. "We're embarrassed for our sponsors. It was just a dumb mistake, we weren't trying to pull anything off on anyone."
Mark Martin, meanwhile, needed to take out his backup car because he scraped the wall after Thursday's qualifying race and damaged the frame of his Ford.
He was eighth-fastest in Friday's only practice session and will drop from 28th to the rear of the field at the start of Sunday's race.
Martin will be joined by Johnny Benson, who will fall back three spots from 40th after ruining his primary car by hitting the wall in Friday's practice.
Aside from Wallace, six other drivers skipped practice for a variety of reasons, including polesitter Jeff Green.
Most everyone spent the day trying to figure out how to mount a challenge on the strong cars from Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Richard Childress Racing. The top four spots in the starting order were filled by drivers from the two teams -- Green (RCR), then Dale Earnhardt Jr. (DEI), Robby Gordon (RCR) and Michael Waltrip (DEI).