ROCKINGHAM, N.C. - NASCAR's new single-engine rule survived its debut, but not without some questions.
Starting with Sunday's Subway 400 at the North Carolina Speedway, every Winston Cup Series team was required to practice, qualify and race with the same engine. That rule is supposed to cut about $1 million from the every budget since teams no longer will have to build and maintain a shop full of $50,000 qualifying engines.
Kurt Busch's team found a problem with the race engine before the race and got permission to switch to a backup. The exception, however, came with a hefty price: he had to give up his seventh-place spot on the starting grid and start the race from last position.
There were four engine failures during the race. Three of them, however, came in the first 200 miles.
Stacy Compton, Ken Schrader, Dale Jarrett, Mike Skinner and Michael Waltrip all finished in the garage area.
"It didn't give any warning," Jarrett said after his engine went silent on the 145th lap while he was leading. "It's hard to describe. Pieces and parts are going to break."
Jarrett said his problems weren't related to the new rule.
"No, I mean this early in the race?" he said. "If it would have happened later, you might look at parts like that, but not this early in the race. It's just unfortunate. We had a car to beat today."
While three engine failures aren't alarming, it was more than either 400-mile race at North Carolina last year. There was one blown engine at each race a year ago.
"We've got a new thing to race: we've got to race our engines," said Jack Roush, car owner for race winner Matt Kenseth and Busch. "That will get some people caught more than others.
"During their pre-race inspection (on Busch's car), they found a pinhole in a cylinder wall. The truth is, that would have been our race motor anyway. The problem would have occurred 150 miles into the race. We accept the challenge enthusiastically. If NASCAR wanted to seal these engines and make use run two races, I'd jump for joy."
THE MONEY PIT: Andy Petree and Travis Carter didn't find much relief during Sunday's race.
Both are car owners who desperately need sponsorship to keep their doors open, and both had cars that were severely damaged in a pair of separate accidents.
Joe Nemechek crashed Carter's Ford twice, tearing up the front and rear bumpers on his Kmart Ford, while Mike Wallace wrecked Petree's Chevrolet.
Carter said the race next week at Las Vegas would be his last unless he can find a sponsor to replace the two cars that had been sponsored by Kmart. That sponsorship, which included another Ford driven by Todd Bodine, ended after Sunday's race because the giant retailer is in bankruptcy.
Petree hasn't decided whether he will continue next week without a sponsor.
CRASH GORDON: When Jeff Gordon gave Kevin Harvick a little bump during the season-opening Daytona 500, it triggered an 18-car crash in the first turn.
When he gave Casey Atwood a slight nudge in Sunday's Subway 400, it touched off a seven-car collision in the third turn.
"He (Atwood) checked up and got loose and I got in the back of him," Gordon said. "That was a pretty close call. At Rockingham, you just want to survive and not hit anything and get back here in one piece."
Gordon finished seventh.
PIT STOPS: While describing his hectic schedule in the week following his Daytona 500 victory, Ward Burton offered this curious observations: "It was a whirlpool week." ... Steve Park's road to recovery will include a two-day test session starting today at the Atlanta Motor Speedway ... Park, Joe Nemechek and Matt Kenseth each won their second career race on the Winston Cup Series in the last three races staged at the North Carolina Speedway.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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