DARLINGTON, S.C. - It didn't take long for the Darlington Raceway to live up to its treacherous reputation.
Race leader Steve Park crashed with the lapped car of Stacy Compton on the 39th lap as the two raced off the fourth turn. The crash not only spoiled Park's chances, it took out pole-sitter Ricky Craven.
"As the leader of the race, Steve has got to make good decisions and I think the decision to pass where he passed was questionable," Craven said. "I also think Stacy needs to give consideration to the leader.
"I'm not going to dismiss it as one of those racing deals because it didn't need to happen and it took the Tide Ford (Craven's car) out of the race. I'm not going to sit here and say it was anybody's fault because Darlington is a tough old place to race."
Park, who was making his return after suffering a brain injury in a crash at Darlington six months ago, said Compton didn't get him enough room, although it appeared Compton was pressed against the outside wall when Park slid up into him.
"Lap traffic," Park said. "Lapped traffic was a hassle. I thought we had a car that was capable of winning the race. Lapped traffic has got to give the leader a break."
All three cars were able to continue following lengthy repairs. Compton wound up 37th, while Park was 39th and Craven was 41st.
VIEW FROM THE BACK: The top-two drivers in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings were forced to give up their spots in the starting grid before the race.
Series leader Sterling Marlin was supposed to start 11th, but he dropped to 43rd after his team changed engines. NASCAR demands a team use the same engine throughout the entire racing weekend or start at the back of the grid.
Ryan Newman, who entered the race second in the standings, crashed during the final practice session Saturday and was forced to use a different car for the main event. He forfeited his third-place spot in the lineup for the 42nd spot.
Marlin became the fourth driver this year to sacrifice his starting position for a fresh engine. Three of the four, however, rallied for solid finishes. Kurt Busch was 12th at Rockingham, N.C., and Matt Kenseth was fourth a week ago at Atlanta.
On Saturday, NASCAR said it was amending his single engine rule to include possible reduction in owner and driver points to teams that change engines.
PIT STOPS: The framed photograph of Jeff and Brooke Gordon posing with a $1 million No Bull 5 check earned at Darlington in 1998 was removed from the infield media center Saturday - the same day it was reported that Brooke Gordon had filed for divorce, citing "marital misconduct." ... Scott Stallings, a gas carrier for the No. 77 Jasper Engines Ford and driver Dave Blaney, was hospitalized at Carolinas Hospital System in nearby Florence, S.C., after he suffered chest pains. An initial examination revealed no cardiac damage, according to the speedway. ... Although Sterling Marlin had to start last, his official starting position was 11th. That means the only driver to officially win from 43rd position at Darlington remains Johnny Mantz, who won the first Southern 500 in 1950.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.