Daytona cheating scandal: crew chiefs suspended, drivers docked points

By Jenna Fryer The Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR took its strongest stance against cheating yesterday, suspending the crew chiefs for Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs and Elliott Sadler and docking all four drivers points before the season-opening Daytona 500 for failing inspections.

Kahne, Riggs and Sadler are teammates at Evernham Motorsports. Kenseth, the 2003 series champion and runner-up last season, drives for Roush Racing.

Robbie Reiser, crew chief for Kenseth, and Kenny Francis, crew chief for Kahne, were suspended four races. Rodney Childers, crew chief for Riggs, and Josh Brown, crew chief for Sadler, were suspended two races.

All four can appeal, a process that could allow them to work the Great American Race. If they do appeal, and the committee cannot schedule a hearing before Sunday’s race, they would be allowed to participate.

In toughening its penalties, NASCAR made the unprecedented move of taking points away before the season has even started. Kahne and Kenseth were docked 50 points apiece, while Riggs and Sadler lost 25 each.

Reiser and Francis also were fined $50,000 each, while Childers and Brown were fined $25,000 each.

All four drivers will start the season with negative points – a move that most likely infuriated the teams, but sent a strong message that NASCAR will no longer tolerate rule-breakers.

NASCAR is still investigating Michael Waltrip’s startup Toyota team, which failed a pre-qualifying inspection and had a key part shipped back to North Carolina for further analysis.

It’s the second straight season that NASCAR’s biggest event has been marred by cheating scandals. Last year, Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief was sent home for four races when he was caught cheating in qualifying. Johnson won the race without Chad Knaus, who rejoined the team in March and helped Johnson win the Nextel Cup title.

NASCAR did not take points away from Johnson because the sanctioning body had been reluctant to force a team to start the season in the red. But after three cars failed inspection during Sunday’s qualifying session, NASCAR decided it had up the ante to deter teams from continuously pushing the envelope.

The actions come at a time when chairman Brian France is attempting to jump-start the family business, which seemingly hit a plateau last season after years of booming popularity. With television ratings down, attendance at a standstill and France still trying to match the NFL’s broad appeal, NASCAR felt it had to crackdown on cheating.

Still, NASCAR stopped short of kicking the teams out of the race, a move that many believe would be the ultimate punishment.