BRISTOL, Tenn. - While NASCAR has been widely criticized in the past two months for its safety record, one race team thinks the sanctioning body has gone too far.
Melling Racing will appeal a $5,000 fine and two-race suspension for crew chief Chad Knaus after NASCAR officials imposed the penalties for non-approved seat belts in Stacy Compton's race car.
NASCAR also fined crew chief Matt Chambers $5,000 and suspended him for two races for the same problem inside Kurt Busch's car.
The infractions were found at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 10.
Rules demand that seat belts be replaced every five years. The belts found inside Compton's were missing the labels that specify when the belts were manufactured. Without proof, NASCAR assumed the worst and deemed the belts out of date.
Seat belts have become an issue on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series since Dale Earnhardt was killed Feb. 18 on the final lap of the Daytona 500. NASCAR said Earnhardt's seat belt apparently broke at impact, throwing the seven-time Winston Cup champion into the steering wheel at 180 mph. He died of a fractured skull, and his injuries also included eight broken ribs, a broken sternum and a broken left ankle.
Knaus said the label for his driver's seat belts was part of an excess piece that was cut away. If the label had been left on the belt, Knaus said nearly a foot of excess seat belt would hang over Compton's shoulders.
Knaus is allowed to be on the sidelines for this Sunday's Food City 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway while his team finishes its appeal. A panel of racing officials will hear the appeal next week.
Chambers won't appeal his penalty since his team admitted the belts inside Busch's car were dated in 1995. The team speculated the old belts were improperly packaged in a new box at their race shop when the team re-located from Liberty, N.C., to Concord, N.C.
Counting a pair of $5,000 fines issued to NASCAR Busch Series drivers Ryan Newman and Tim Fedewa this week for rough driving during the cool-down lap of last Saturday's race at the Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, NASCAR has issued 29 fines totaling $71,000 during the first five races of the 36-race season.
All money collected in fines will be added to the season-ending points fund.
EXPERT PICKED: A Duke University professor will see Earnhardt's autopsy photographs, then offer an opinion on how the driver died two months ago at the Daytona International Speedway.
Barry S. Myers, a doctor who also has a mechanical engineering degree, was picked by a mediator as part of the settlement between the driver's widow, Teresa Earnhardt, and the Orlando Sentinel.
The newspaper wanted its own medical expert to look over the photos to determine if the seven-time champion could have been killed differently than was reported by the Volusia County medical examiner and if an assortment of new safety devices would have saved Earnhardt's life.
Teresa Earnhardt sued to have the autopsy photos sealed, fearing other news organizations and the Internet would exploit the driver's death. A judge last week ruled that he would appoint an independent doctor to see the photos before sealing them from further review.
Myers will file his report to the Sentinel and to the Earnhardt family.
Since that agreement, the student newspaper at the University of Florida and at least one Internet web site also have requested access to the photos.
HARVICK ON POLE: Kevin Harvick's season of double-duty continued Friday when he won the pole position for today's Cheez-It 250 for the NASCAR Busch Series at the Bristol Motor Speedway, then earned the third starting spot for Sunday's Food City 500 for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
Harvick, who was supposed to compete all year on the Busch Series for Richard Childress Racing then move to Winston Cup next season, earned an automatic promotion to the senior circuit when Earnhardt, a Childress teammate, was killed.
Harvick ran 125.264 mph in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo to win the Busch Series pole.
Matt Kenseth, another driver who's doing double-duty this year, qualified second for the Busch Series race at 124.906 mph.
PIT STOPS: As expected, Robby Gordon was released from his driving duties with the No. 4 Morgan-McClure Chevrolet. The former IndyCar driver had a five-year contract, but he lasted only five races. Kevin Lepage will drive the car Sunday during the Food City 500. He will start 42nd. The team expects to pick a full-time driver in the next couple of weeks ... Jeff Burton denied he has considered a move from Roush Racing to a third car being planned for Richard Childress Racing in 2002. In fact, he said the rumors of a possible change made him "furious."