Saturday, July 5, 2008
Impending penalties expected to put dent in Truex's Chase hopes
By David Newton
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Martin Truex Jr.'s bid to make the championship chase is expected to get much tougher after NASCAR announces penalties for the No. 1 car next week.
Sources close to the situation said on Saturday that Truex's team is likely to be docked at least 150 points, the same penalty Haas CNC Racing was given in May, after his car failed to pass the initial inspection process at Daytona International Raceway.
Truex entered Saturday night's Sprint Cup race 14th in points, 71 out of the top 12 guaranteed a spot in the 10-race playoff and 97 out of ninth place. There are only eight races left before the field is set following Daytona.
Truex's team also expects to lose crew chief Kevin Manion, his car chief and an engineer for six weeks, with Manion facing a $100,000 fine similar to the one given to Haas CNC.
"We expect it to be harsh," said John Story, the vice president of motorsports operations at Dale Earnhardt Inc. "It certainly makes it a lot harder [to make the Chase]. I'm not ready to say it is an impossible situation, but it makes it harder.''
Story added that he doesn't believe the setback will hinder negotiations to sign Truex to a long-term deal. DEI has picked up the option on Truex for next season, but Truex has yet to acknowledge that option is binding as other teams have approached him.
"Martin is very disappointed," Story said. "Like me, he knows it wasn't intentional. I don't think it will affect anything moving forward."
Story acknowledged the car was 1/16th of an inch too narrow when it went through inspection on Thursday. He said the team was allowed to work on the car, but after templates fit the second time through was told the car would be confiscated and sent to NASCAR's Research and Development shop.
Truex qualified in the backup car.
Series director John Darby would not comment on the severity of the forthcoming penalty but reminded NASCAR does not confiscate a car without absolute proof of wrongdoing.
Whether the wrongdoing is intentional or not, he added, does not matter.
"It certainly was not intentional," Story said.
Story said the car tightly fit the team's construction templates, which apparently are not an exact match with the templates at the track.
"In fairness to NASCAR, they told us, 'Here's the box. Play within the box,'" Story said. "Unfortunately, unknowingly, we got outside that box and they didn't like it."
Confounding the situation more, Truex's car was the only new one of the eight DEI brought to Daytona Beach. The other three qualified in the top 10, including the front row of Paul Menard and Mark Martin.
"The crazy thing is, as good as our cars are running here, how much better could it be?" Story said of the confiscated car."It wasn't as though we needed a bigger advantage. We knew we had fast racecars."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be