Originally created 03/30/03

NASCAR botebook

FORT WORTH, Tex. - Car owner Joe Gibbs may have softened possible sanctions by NASCAR by admitting his team broke the rules during the construction of Tony Stewart's car.

The sanctioning body impounded Stewart's Chevrolet during its inspection process Friday after it found the rear trunk area to be more than a half-inch out of alignment with the rest of the car. NASCAR doesn't allow for more than 1/8 -inch variance in the placement of the body.

"The first thing I want to say is that we believe in equal cars for the teams and let the teams make the difference," Gibbs said Saturday from Texas Motor Speedway. "That's what NASCAR is trying to do, and we support that. We want that."

Stewart will use a backup car in today's Samsung/RadioShack 500. He is 22nd on the starting grid.

The car is the first in the sport's 55-year history to be impounded. The sanctioning body will ship it to its research and development center in Mooresville, N.C., to determine what advantages, if any, were gained by moving the trunk area off center to the right.

Chevrolet has a new body style for its Monte Carlo this year and most teams say they have more downforce, if not too much downforce, on the front wheels. The new challenge is to create downforce on the rear wheels. Twisting the trunk area to the right may have been a way to accomplish that.

"With something like this, there are one of three things that could have happened back there," Gibbs said. "It's either somebody tried to cheat, which we know isn't the case. We don't believe in that. Somebody, through incompetence, can't get the job done. I don't think that's the case. Or, somebody just made a mistake."

Gibbs said it was an honest mistake.

"First of all, I want to apologize to NASCAR," Gibbs said. "I want to apologize to (sponsor) Home Depot. This is our fault. We're trying to go back through a process of figuring out how it happened. Obviously, we've got fast racecars. All our other cars fit the templates. This one -- there is kind of an unusual set of circumstances in our construction process here, and we're trying go back and figure out exactly what happened.

"This thing is our fault. There is no excuse, so we apologize to everybody and we're going try to figure out a way now to add a process and make sure that it never happens again. That's generally our feeling."

When NASCAR has impounded illegal parts in the past, it has kept them. The sanctioning body has a warehouse full of pieces that don't conform to NASCAR rules. If it keeps Stewart's car, it would set Gibbs back about $75,000 for the car itself and another $40,000 for the engine."

But compared to other possible penalties, the cost of a car may be insignificant. For example, NASCAR suspended a crew chief on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for three months for using an illegal suspension spring in last week's race in California.

BUSCH RACE: Joe Nemechek became the first two-time winner on the series this year by driving through two late-race crashes in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300.

Nemechek got through a 12-car crash with 10 laps to go, then assumed the lead when Todd Bodine pitted with a flat tire with nine laps remaining to keep the Winston Cup Series' stranglehold on the support circuit. All seven Busch Series races this year have been won by moonlighting Winston Cup drivers.

PETTY DOUBTFUL: Kyle Petty probably will need a relief driver today. In fact, he may need one before the race even starts.

Christian Fittipaldi drove Petty's Dodge during two practice sessions Saturday while the third-generation driver continues to recover from a hard crash in last Sunday's race at Bristol, Tenn.

"If I can get out of bed Sunday morning quick, I'll know it's time to go," Petty said. " If I get out of bed slow, I'll know it ain't going to be the time. I got out of the bed real slow (Saturday) morning."

If Petty misses the race, it will hurt him in the point standings. But he said the future of the family's race team is more important than one race.

"I'm trying to look down the road," he said. "You've got Talladega (next Sunday) and then you've got Martinsville (on April 13). If you've got to give up a race to get healed up, this might be it."

HAPPY HOUR: Jimmie Johnson posted the fastest lap in the final practice session for today's race. His Chevrolet was clocked at 188.983 mph in its more-conservative race trim.


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