Dale Earnhardt Jr was hit with a NASCAR-imposed penalty on Wednesday for intentionally causing a caution condition during Sunday's Sharpie 500 Nextel Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Junior admitted it after the race, saying he needed a caution so he could pit to change a loose wheel, and was fined $10,000 and put on probation until 1 June 2004. But the stiffest part of the penalty was the loss of 25 championship points, both to Little E and to his DEI team.
NASCAR president Mike Helton said that '[NASCAR] has several rules in our rule book that have been in place for quite some time to prevent someone from altering the outcome of an event. Actions such as this will not be tolerated. We will always react to protect the integrity of our sport'.
NASCAR has a policy of releasing unofficial results after a race, with the official results issued the Monday after the weekend. Penalties, if any, were announced on Tuesday. However, because of the increase in the number of penalties - in inverse proportion to the size of the fields - an extra day will be needed for behaviour and infraction review. Now 'Penalty Box Day' is Wednesday. This will also allow sufficient time to tally the results of the Internet fan voting on which drivers should be penalised.
NASCAR will be joining the ever-increasing number of organisations holding annual awards shows. Starting with the 2005 SpeedWeeks, NASCAR will hold the First Annual NASCAR Fan Choice Awards at Daytona USA, to be simultaneously televised live on Spike TV
cable channels. The five-hour show will be sponsored by Nigerian EMail.
Among the Award Categories, both objective and subjective, are 'most expressive hand signals', 'bleepingest driver', 'most colourful driver language', 'most column inches in a tabloid', 'driver who runs for the most teams', 'team which runs the most drivers', 'team with the most personnel changes', 'longest term of NASCAR probation', 'worst criminal record', 'most points lost', 'largest fine' and 'driver completing the fewest laps'. Joe Ruttman appears to leading the latter category in Nextel Cup, although Phil Bonifeld is a close second in the Craftsman Truck Series.
Grand-Am Road Racing Championship, based at NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach, will further strengthen its stock car ties. Effective with the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Daytona 500 - both of which are part of Daytona SpeedWeeks - the series will run together at selected race venues. This will further increase the cross-pollination between the disciplines. Even more NASCAR drivers will be expected to run in the annual sportscar endurance race, including Johnny Benson, Mark Martin - who has already run the Rolex - Casey Mears, Ryan Newman, Jimmy Spencer and Ken Schrader, who has a few weekends left to fill on his 52-weekend calendar.
Conversely, more of the road racers will run stock cars. Among the first Busch Series teams expected to announce will be Dyson/Doran Racing, with a six-car team. The drivers will be Ron Fellows (Bully Hill Wine Chevrolet), Elliott Forbes-Robinson (Yellowtail Wine Dodge), Butch Leitzinger (Hickory Farms Cheese Ford), Max Papis (Ruffino Chianti Dodge), Boris Said (Two Buck Chuck Ford) and Jimmy Vasser (Monterrey Jack Cheese Chevrolet).
Starting with the Brickyard 400 race, NASCAR will reduce the size of the fields in Nextel Cup to 33 cars, in line with the size of the Indianapolis 500 field, both of which are run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.