Homestead, Fla - "In the best interest of the sport."
JAYSKI'S SILLY SEASON SITE
"In The Best Interest Of The Sport."
By Stan Creekmore
Its almost impossible to count the number of times a NASCAR official will utter those words in the course of a single season or even throughout a career. It will not be nearly as often as a Winston Cup driver slips a Sharpie pen from his pants pocket to scratch out an autograph, but it could easily come close to the 201 wins attributed to 7-time Winston Cup champion Richard Petty. "In the best interest of the sport," agreed NASCAR spokesman Kevin Triplett, is a factor when NASCAR officials sit down to weigh any decision. A statement which comes as no surprise. The France family and their associates make their living from the sport and whatever is in the best interest of the sport is also in the best interest of those in an ownership position. NASCAR officials made once such decision recently following the DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Billy Standridge is a relative nobody in the grand scheme of NASCAR. A bit player clinging to every opportunity to share in the generous pie we call Winston Cup. Standridge, with assistance from Hanes, an apparel manufacturer who has long supported NASCAR through race and car sponsorships, and money from a small group of individuals who were solicited via the internet (www.jayski.com), was able to put together an effort for Talladega. With a leased engine from Cale Yarborough's #98 RCA Ford operation, Standridge turned a second round qualifying lap of 191.252 mph (50.07 seconds) fast enough to claim the 26th starting position and send a few name drivers home for the weekend. The lap also guaranteed Standridge a date with the NASCAR inspection team. Using the same engine in the race, Standridge's appointed hour with NASCAR was delayed until the completion of the 188 lap event. Standard NASCAR policy is to tear down the engine of the fastest second round qualifier either at the end of the race or at a point where the engine is removed from the race car, which ever occurs earlier. In addition, NASCAR adopted a policy of taking x-rays of engine parts at restrictor plate races at the beginning of the 1997 season. So it was the engine from the #78 Confab/Jayski.com Ford went under the microscope following the completion of the DieHard 500. During the process of examining the cylinder heads via x-ray NASCAR officials discovered areas of question. With nightfall closing in on the superspeedway the decision was made to hold the parts over and examine them in a more controlled environment in a shop near the Charlotte, NC area the following day - Monday. While testing of SB2 engine combinations, unleaded fuel, and the new Ford Taurus were being conducted on the 2.66 mile Talladega Superspeedway under the watchful eyes of Steve Peterson, Gary Nelson was leading a team making a closer examination of the suspect cylinder heads. Further testing revealed the alterations, holes that had been plugged by either welding or plugs, which NASCAR was not real pleased to see, were not of the type which could have been easily put to use without removing the cylinder heads from the engine at the race track. In other words, the engine did not make its way to the race track in an illegal configuration. The presence of the modifications were enough to raise concerns within the inspection ranks but not enough to warrant a fine or seizure of the heads. "The cylinder heads were not normal," according to Kevin Triplett. "But, there was nothing done on what we found that was deemed to be a performance enhancement." But, something was done as can be found in the statement from the No. 98 team. "The cylinder heads were not deemed illegal. They were kept by NASCAR for further study to see if there was any way that they could be altered at the race track to enhance the performance of the engine." Upon completion of the further testing NASCAR officials returned the cylinder heads to the No. 98. But, don't expect them to see the light of day on an engine at a race track in the future. Possible clarifications to the rule book will prevent such an occurrence.
And, that is in the best interest of the sport according to NASCAR. Still the entire matter raises the question of handling. Last year Ricky Rudd's Tide Ford was discovered to have equipment on the race car which had the possibility of enhancing the performance of the race car. The equipment, which according to Rudd was used only in testing and quickly dismissed as a non-viable option, was not working at the time is was discovered by NASCAR officials. Still NASCAR swiftly took the equipment into its possession and fined Rudd $50,000. Standridge had cylinder heads with holes drilled which with additional work, possible but not probable, could have been a performance enhancement. The holes were plug rendering the alterations moot without work being done to un-plug them. Similar to Rudd's situation.....in place but not operational. And there the difference ends. Rudd was fined and Standridge, or Yarborough, was not. Looking at the facts is it easy to conclude NASCAR took a lenient road in the "best interest of the sport." Billy Standridge finished 42nd, last, earning less then enough to pay the kind of penalty the infraction could have drawn. Such a penalty could have put Standridge out of racing. NASCAR is not in the business of putting drivers and teams out of racing. And, even if NASCAR would have had the inclination to fine Standridge such an action would have been unfair. It is highly unlikely Standridge was aware of the alterations. The engine was leased. The finger would have had to been re-directed to Tony Santanicola, head engine builder on the #98. Or, to Yarborough himself. Yarborough has just gotten the final word RCA would not be returning as his primary sponsor in 1998 and was in jeopardy of losing his driver also. Yarborough was telling those listening how much assistance NASCAR had been in his sponsor search. There was a lot of back scratching going on between car owner and sanctioning body. A penalty at this time would be a serious set back to Yarborough's efforts to land a full time sponsor. Its was simply in the best interest of the sport to handle the situation quietly behind the scenes. Standridge wins, Yarborough wins, RCA wins, and NASCAR also wins. While NASCAR has never shied away from adverse publicity concerning the sport of auto racing, they certainly don't go out looking to publicize every rule infraction, rule interpretation, or dispute with a race team. Suprisingly enough NASCAR seized a part from the No. 98 that same weekend...a piece of the rear end gear. No fine on that situation either, but NASCAR kept the part.
Printed with Permission from Stan Creekmore, 1997© Stan Creekmore and National Speed Sport News
"NASCAR officials seized the cylinder heads off the #47 Jayski's Ford driven by Billy Standridge following post race inspections. X-rays of the heads were enough to convince NASCAR officials to transport the the heads back to North Carolina for further testing. The engine Standridge ran with in the DieHard 500 was obtained from the #98 team owned by Cale Yarborough. Pentalties are pending."(NSSN)(10-17-97)
Two related stories
"The reason NASCAR took the heads back to Charlotte was to have a better look at them. It had gotten so late at Talladega(8:30-9:00P.M.)that there was not enough light to look at the heads. The reason it was so late was because the 98 team had to take their engine apart first before taking the borrowed engine apart that Billy used. NASCAR was ready to go back to Charlotte and that is why the heads where not checked until Tuesday. Billy has received the heads back and was told there would be no penalties and has also received money for second round fastest qualifier and race earnings."(From the Billy Standridge Team)(10-19-97)
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