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NASCAR calls Ruttman run 'a sham'

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

Ruttman ran one lap of the Subway 400 on Sunday 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 Nextel Cup
teams planned on competing in Rockingham last weekend. 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.

"We're trying,'' said Hillenburg, who has just one full-time
employee but still wants to attempt to make up to 20 races this
year. "Were we the best car? No, not even close, but we tried our
hardest. I don't think anybody tried harder, so now we have a
starting place.''

Carl Long, who owns just one race car, couldn't afford to buy
tires and had to use the same set all weekend. Even though he was
able to hold his own on the race track, he was involved in a
spectacular accident that sent his car barrel-rolling down the
backstretch.

But because Long tries to make races all season long, NASCAR was
not upset with his underfunded effort.

"We are perfectly fine with Carl Long,'' Hunter said. "He is
trying to be a racer and everyone admires the effort he puts in.

"But we are looking at some of these other guys who are showing
up and will consider different ways to handle these situations in
the future.''