Rules infraction leaves Wallace crying in his beer
By EDDIE PELLS, AP Sports Writer
February 15, 2003
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Party foul.
Rusty Wallace's quest to win free beer for the NASCAR Nation took a blow Friday, when he was pushed 30 spots down the starting lineup of the Daytona 500 for using an illegal carburetor in his qualifying race.
Wallace is taking part in one of the most intriguing promotions in NASCAR's marketing-crazy history. A victory Sunday, and every adult ticketholder at the track will get a coupon for a free six-pack of Miller Lite, the brand Wallace endorses.
But now, he'll start the race in 38th place instead of eighth, making the odds even longer for the 46-year-old star, who is winless in 20 starts in NASCAR's biggest race.
``A rule's a rule,'' Wallace said. ``We're just embarrassed about the whole thing.''
The carburetor in Wallace's Dodge did not meet the minimum size requirements when it was inspected after his fourth-place finish in Thursday's qualifying race.
NASCAR officials 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. They also fined his crew chief, Billy Wilburn, $10,000, but did not deduct points, in part because this is the first race of the season.
``I don't know if we want to dip into the world of starting somebody out in negative points,'' Winston Cup director John Darby said.
The specifications for restrictor-plate races are different than any other tracks on the circuit, and Darby said the carburetor that Wilburn used would be legal next weekend at North Carolina Speedway.
The decision was announced four hours after the garage closed Friday, so Wallace's crew had to play the waiting game 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 while 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,'' Wallace said. ``We didn't check it and we're paying for it now.''
NASCAR requires restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega to diminish air flow to the carburetor, and ultimately reduce speeds.
By tinkering with the carburetor -- even by a tiny margin in the 1 9-16th-inch part that didn't pass inspection -- 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.
``It was just a dumb mistake,'' Wallace said. ``We weren't trying to pull anything off on anyone.''
The free-beer promotion was a long shot anyway, but Wallace can take heart in the fact that last July at Daytona, he started the race 37th and still finished second.
Wallace wasn't the only one who won't start where he qualified.
Mark Martin and Johnny Benson each will drive backup cars after minor accidents this week. Martin will drop from 28th to the rear of the field to start the race, and Benson will drop from 40th to 43rd.
``Our backup car isn't as good, but it's OK,'' Martin said.
The speed chart said otherwise -- he was eighth fastest in Friday's only practice session.