Originally created 02/29/04

NASCAR examines field-filling practices



CONCORD, N.C. - NASCAR should not have allowed Joe Ruttman to start last week's Nextel Cup Subway 400 at North Carolina Speedway and is examining ways to prevent unqualified "field fillers" from competing in the future, officials said.

Ruttman ran one lap before NASCAR black-flagged him because he didn't have a pit crew to service his car. Ruttman earned $54,196 just for starting the race.

"The Joe Ruttman thing was sort of a sham," NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter said Tuesday.

"We always try to do the right thing, and since we had let it go that far, we let him start the race.

"However, that will not happen again."

With dwindling sponsor dollars, only 37 full-time teams planned on competing in Rockingham. It left six open spots in the field and made it possible for underfunded teams to attempt to make the race.

There had been speculation that NASCAR contacted several of the "field-filler" teams - even promising to pay them - if they showed up and tried to fill the 43-car field.

Hunter denied it.

"The notion that we are soliciting teams and paying them to try to make the race is absolutely untrue," Hunter said. "We have no problem starting a race with fewer than 43 cars in it."

But NASCAR wasn't faced with that dilemma because enough field fillers showed up in Rockingham.

Among them was Ruttman, a 60-year-old grandfather who had not raced in NASCAR's top series since 1995. He qualified 40th Friday, never attempted to practice in either of Saturday's sessions, and never tried to hide that his James Finch-owned team had no pit crew.

It was a blatant case of showing up just for a cut of the $4.7 million purse, with Finch and Ruttman knowing they could not be competitive.

Hunter said NASCAR officials have admonished Finch, who fields a full-time entry in the Busch series and occasionally submits legitimate entries in the Nextel Cup series.

But the inclusion of the field fillers was embarrassing from the start for NASCAR.

Kirk Shelmerdine was lapped eight minutes into the race and ordered off the track shortly thereafter for not being up to NASCAR's minimum speed requirement. He earned $54,895 for coming in 42nd.

Andy Hillenburg, who filled the 43rd spot in the field, was 10 mph slower than Ryan Newman's pole-qualifying speed, and was 14 mph off the pace in Saturday's practice.

Still, he outlasted several of the top teams and finished in 34th place, 17 laps down, earning $55,425.