DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - NASCAR on Monday again proved its power not only is reaching, but also powerful.
The sanctioning body fined 18 crew chiefs and suspended two for an array of rules violations during preparation for Sunday's Daytona 500.
The biggest penalty was fines totally $12,500 and a four-race suspension for Tony Furr, crew chief for Jerry Nadeau. After qualifying for the outside pole for the Daytona 500, NASCAR determined Nadeau's car had been fitted with a breakaway part in the rear suspension to drop his Chevrolet Monte Carlo a half-inch.
Also, Kevin Cram, crew chief for Jason Leffler, was fined $10,000 and suspended for four races for using "altered" fuel during pole qualifying.
"We went through a period in NASCAR about five years ago where we made a statement to our competitors: Here's a big fine. If you do it again, here's a bigger fine," said Gary Nelson, NASCAR's competition director. "But the sponsorships have gone up so much, the fines don't mean anything.
"We've changed our approach in 2001. We're going to try the suspensions for the guys who break the rules."
The investigation into Furr started before Nadeau finished his lap of 182.763 mph last Saturday. A corner worker reported to the sanctioning body that something fell off Nadeau's car during the warm-up lap.
The part was retrieved minutes later, and his time was disallowed after NASCAR found the car to be a half-inch below minimum standards.
"A lower car is a faster car," Nelson said.
Furr couldn't explain how after the car dropped a half-inch when a breakaway spacer fell from the right-rear shock mount.
"We went to the crew and asked for an explanation, and they didn't give us one," Nelson said. "What we got was what we got on our own. What we found was it was a part designed to break the rules, a part designed to take away starting positions from people who did it by the rules."
Furr was fined $10,000 for the breakaway part and another $2,500 for modifying Nadeau's gas tank to be lighter than specifications.
"It's a little disappointing, but there isn't anything we can do about it now," Nadeau said. "Really, we just need to look forward to the race. I know we've got a good racecar for Sunday. Once we get over the hump and we get into the race and we get a good finish, we'll forget about what happened."
Cram's team, Chip Ganassi Racing, accepted its penalty.
"Even though this news comes as a surprise to all of us, we are looking into the matter and will abide by NASCAR's ruling," team manager Andy Graves.
The suspensions for both Furr and Cram will start at the North Carolina Speedway next week.
Nelson said his organization had grown weary of trying to stay ahead of the race team's ability to bypass the rules. That's why NASCAR now will keep files on crewmen who are caught.
"There's a story behind every one of these, and I heard them all today," Nelson said. "We take (an illegal part) from them, then next week we see it again. We take it from them, then we see it again. Now we're building files on the crew chiefs who keep doing this. Even if it's a $250 fine, it becomes part of his record that will follow him throughout his career."
Gary DeHart, crew chief for Terry Labonte, was fined $5,000 for using an air deflector on the roof and another $1,000 for using an unapproved fuel cell.
Along with Furr and Robbie Loomis, crew chief for Jeff Gordon who was fined a total of $1,250 for the same air deflector and an unapproved check valve in the gas tank, all three teams in the Hendrick Motorsports stable felt NASCAR's wrath Monday.
Ray Evernham holds the record for the biggest fine in NASCAR history. He was penalized $60,000 in 1995 for using hollowed-out wheel hubs on Jeff Gordon's car at Charlotte, N.C., while both worked for Hendrick.
Jeremy Mayfield's race team was fined $50,000 a year ago and crew chief Peter Sospenzo was suspended for four races after a crewman used an additive to the gasoline at Talladega, Ala.
Furr has the third-biggest fine at $50,000 for using illegal carburetor mounting bolts at Daytona in 1997.
The rest of the penalties ranged from $2,500 to $250. Of note, crew chief Mike Ford was fined $2,500 for using a suspension part that was too thin on Bill Elliott's pole-winning Dodge Intrepid. The penalty, however, doesn't affect Elliott's position in the starting lineup.
The illegal parts included underpans to deflect air, oversized gas tanks and adjustable braces on the rear spoiler.
Every crew chief can appeal NASCAR's penalties to the National Stock Car Commission.
BODINE LEADS SECOND ROUND:
The amount of time Brett Bodine shaved off his first-round qualifying speed was less than it takes to flip a light switch - 841,000ths of a second - but it was enough to give the driver a sense of relief.
By improving his qualifying speed during a second-round session Monday, Bodine moved up eight spots on the final time sheets for the Daytona 500.
The first two positions were locked up during Saturday afternoon's session. Elliott won the pole position at 183.565 mph, while Stacy Compton was second at 182.682.
The next 28 positions will be determined by the finishing positions of two 125-mile qualifying races Thursday. The top 14 drivers, excluding either Elliott or Compton, will advance to the main event.
After that, the six fastest speeds from both rounds of qualifying will transfer to the starting lineup, followed by seven cars based on last year's car owner points.
By moving up to 21st, Bodine says he feels he improved his chances of earning one of the six spots based on speed.
"That was huge," he said after driving his Ralph's Supermarkets Ford to a lap of 180.941 mph. "We were 29th (on Saturday), and history shows that the last two years 25th and 26th were the last ones to get into the 500 based on speed.
"It's going to make supper taste a whole lot better the next three nights before Thursday, because we feel like no matter what happens on Thursday, we're going to be in the Daytona 500, and it's been a long time since I've been able to say that."
Dave Marcis was second-fastest in the second session at 180.437 mph, followed by Leffler in third at 179.394, Robert Pressley in fourth at 178.916, Jeff Purvis in fifth at 178.462, Mayfield in sixth at 178.398, Nadeau in seventh at 178.271 and Dwayne Leik in eighth at 174.659.
Leffler's first-round speed of 180.119 mph was disqualified early Monday after NASCAR officials found "irregularities" in the gas he used Saturday.
RACING SOAP OPERA:
Apparently, NASCAR officials weren't happy with the way Fox deleted the names of sponsors from race cars during the introductions for Sunday's Budweiser Shootout all-star race.
The network, making its first broadcast of a racing event, blacked out the names of sponsors that didn't buy commercial time as the drivers and their cars were introduced before the race.
Thirteen of the 18 cars were shown with either all-white or all-black hoods and quarter-panels, while five cars were shown in their proper trim. Those five cars - driven by Tony Stewart, Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Terry Labonte and Elliott - all were sponsored by companies that also bought commercial spots during the telecast.
"We've been in serious meetings with Fox last night and again this morning," NASCAR spokeswoman Danielle Humphrey.
Fox spokesman Lou D'Ermilio said NASCAR and the television network hope to resolve the controversy in time for Thursday's Twin 125-mile qualifying races.
Some race tracks expressed concern about other ways television could affect future broadcasts. Raceways at Las Vegas, Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., for example, have billboards mounted above the outside walls. Those officials now want to know if Fox can make those billboard blank during the broadcast.
"I think this opens up one giant headache for everyone," one raceway official said.
Fox is in the first year of a six-year, $2.8 billion deal with NASCAR.
Willy T. Ribbs was the fastest driver in a late practice session Monday for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. He was clocked at 183.793 mph in his Dodge Motorsports Ram pick-up truck ... Augusta's Preston Tutt, who was supposed to run for rookie of the year on the truck series this year, won't be at the season-opening race at Daytona. His team disbanded before it attempted its first race ...