Michael Waltrip penalized for fuel tampering at Daytona 500
A second day of scandal hit the Daytona 500 on Wednesday when two-time winner Michael Waltrip's crew chief and team director were thrown out of NASCAR's biggest race for cheating.
The two were suspended indefinitely after an illegal substance was found during inspection for the season-opening race.
Waltrip, docked 100 points, will be allowed to participate in Thursday's races that determine the field for NASCAR's biggest event of the year.
David Hyder, his crew chief, was thrown out of the garage and fined $100,000 US.
Team director Bobby Kennedy also was kicked out.
"This is not the way you want to enter the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, by any means," said Jim Aust, the president of Toyota Racing Development.
"But circumstances are what they are and we'll support NASCAR in any way we can to help to help them find a resolution to the issue."
Five teams have now been caught cheating during preparations for Sunday's race.
The crew chiefs for 2003 champion Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs and Elliott Sadler all were suspended Tuesday.
NASCAR officials would not reveal what they found in Waltrip's intake manifold, but a person with knowledge of the investigation told the Associated Press it was a property contained in jet fuel.
NASCAR competition director Robin Pemberton said only that the substance was not jet fuel itself.
"We're not going to go into any great detail, but it was a foreign substance that we feel should not have been inside the engine and we'll leave it at that," Pemberton said. "I don't think this is anything that we've seen in the recent past."
The substance was found inside the intake manifold of Waltrip's new Toyota Camry before qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
NASCAR seized the part and shipped it back to North Carolina for analysis and spent all day Wednesday pulling parts and pieces from under the hood.
The manifold is a part of the engine that supplies the fuel/air mix to the engine cylinders.
Waltrip's team coated the inside of it with an illegal substance that is believed to be a property contained in jet fuel, according to the same official, who requested anonymity because NASCAR had not announced its penalties at the time.
Waltrip's team maintains it was oil.
Adding the substance, described as an oxygenate, would boost the octane in the fuel, thus making the engine run better at higher horsepower.
Pemberton said the substance was discovered when a NASCAR official reached his hand into the manifold to feel for loose parts.
"When he brought his hand out, there was a substance on there that was unlike anything he had ever seen in the inspection line before."
Rivals scoff at 100-point penalty
Some rival team members said they thought NASCAR should have taken away more points from Waltrip's team because officials repeatedly have warned teams they are not supposed to tamper with fuel.
The last penalty NASCAR issued for a fuel-tampering violation was harsher.
In May 2000, driver Jeremy Mayfield and team owner Michael Kranefuss were each penalized 151 points for a fuel-related violation found at Talladega Superspeedway.
"When it comes to that area, points need to be equal, at least as bad as it was for Jeremy," said Richie Gilmore, the vice-president of Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Gilmore wasn't surprised, however, that Waltrip still will be allowed to race.
"This day and age, with the sponsors and money that are in the sport, you can see why they didn't send him home," Gilmore said. "But the penalty on the points should have been heavier than 100 points."
Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 champion, started his own three-car team this season with Japanese automaker Toyota.
The Camrys have struggled with speed since January testing, and Waltrip is not assured a starting spot in the field for Sunday's season-opening race.
"This is a highly competitive field this year and I think they went across the line to try to assure them a starting spot in the Daytona 500," Pemberton said.
Waltrip's car failed pre-qualifying inspection.
The cars he fields for Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann both passed inspection. Jarrett is assured a spot in Sunday's race because he's a past series champion; Waltrip and Reutimann must race their way in Thursday.
Robbie Loomis, the executive vice-president of Petty Enterprises, said Waltrip's team should have been penalized 185 points, which is the equivalent of a race victory.
"If they won the Daytona 500, it's like they weren't here," Loomis said. "So I think NASCAR has done a good job showing they're not going to take stuff.
"But it's all checks and balances. I'm sure they'll work it out as the season goes along."
NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter declined to explain why Waltrip's points penalty wasn't as severe as Mayfield's.
"That was then and this is now," Hunter said.