Win Stands Team Fined

Matt Kenseth’s first victory in 60 races was tainted by a fine of $30,000 handed down by NASCAR on Tuesday morning, but the victory in the Subway 400 will stand and Kenseth will get to keep his Winston Cup points.

NASCAR issued the penalty to Robbie Reiser, Kenseth’s crew chief.

Kenseth’s Ford did not meet the minimum height requirement of 51 inches, NASCAR found in its post-race inspection Sunday at North Carolina Speedway. The height of Kenseth’s car was 50¾ inches, NASCAR officials said.

“There are so many things that could have happened there,” Reiser said. “With these soft spring set ups, it looks like we just lost some height there, plus all the stuff that goes on in victory lane. We were surprised by this whole deal and certainly didn’t do anything deliberately to affect the measurement. I guess we’ll just have to keep a closer eye on the things that we can control.”

The team violated Section 20-12.8.1 of the 2002 Winston Cup rule book and was penalized under Section 12-4-T: “Any car that is found to be under the specified height requirement after the completion… of the race.”

Car owner Jack Roush, often an outspoken critic of NASCAR, said the team would not appeal the penalty.

“We believed that the 17 car was legal; we were surprised by the whole thing,” Roush said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “There are a number of things that could have come into play, including the ride height having been affected by a jack bolt that worked itself loose, by roof damage that I’m not certain wasn’t caused by something during the race or in victory lane -- but I don’t know if it affected where the roof height measurement is taken. There were spring-rubber issues, tire-wear issues and so on that could easily account for the measurement.

“We race each week for that last 1/16 of an inch in all areas, and if we set up our cars to have some comfort level in those areas then we can’t be competitive. This problem was not of our contrivance or our doing. We have left it to NASCAR to exact the penalty, and we will not appeal it. We’ve appealed to NASCAR two other times when I have been quite sure that what we got was unwarranted, unsuccessfully, but I’m glad that NASCAR is taking care of business, and I hope that we won’t get caught out again.”

Kenseth won $157,400 for Sunday’s victory.

The fine exceeded previous fines for similar infractions by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeremy Mayfield in the past two years. Earnhardt Jr.’s car was one-eighth of an inch too low after winning the EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway last October, and Mayfield’s was too low after winning at California Speedway in 2000.

Both of those drivers were allowed to keep their victories, too.

“I don’t really have much to say about it except that I am surprised by how much the fine was for a short track race when we’re all out there beating and banging on each other, and you don’t get any gain by stuff like that compared to the same problem at a superspeedway like Talladega or Daytona where the cars don’t touch like that during the race,” Kenseth said. “But that aside, I guess we’ll take it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Kenseth last won in 2000 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, going to victory lane in the Coca-Cola 600. That was in a promising first season in Winston Cup when he won the rookie-of-the-year award.

But the promise of 2000 stumbled to a struggling 2001, where Kenseth didn’t come close to winning. Sunday at Rockingham, however, Kenseth and his Roush Racing team led 152 of the race’s 393 laps. Kenseth passed Sterling Marlin and Bobby Labonte late in the race after he recovered from a slip soon after a restart.

Kenseth said he wondered whether he could win again.

“I always wondered,” Kenseth said. “I’ll wonder that if there ever will be a next one because you never know. It felt like 160 races. It felt like forever. When we won Charlotte so early, that’s a pretty difficult race to win and it was such a great team effort to win that race, and then we ran really well the next few weeks. We finished second at Dover and ran pretty good a couple of times, and then our performance just started dropping off.

“It continued throughout the next year until I felt like with eight or 10 weeks to go we started climbing the hill. I felt like we had bottomed out and were starting to climb the hill again. I was really pleased with our team and where we ended the year last year the last seven or eight races. We had a couple Top 5s and a couple Top 10s, and the times when we didn’t get them, we were very competitive, so I was hoping we’d come back out of the box strong and keep bringing our performance up, so I felt real good about that.”

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