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Junior's costly crash puts him 27th on season

LAS VEGAS -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. had another terrible time at
Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, and this one has cost him
dearly in the standings.

Earnhardt dropped to 27th in the standings after wrecking out of
the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400. A year ago, he finished 35th here, his
worst performance of the season.

This year the entire weekend was bad, with Junior qualifying
poorly at 34th. Then, just 12 laps into the race, he slammed into
Brian Vickers and triggered a five-car wreck that also took Bobby
Labonte and Ricky Rudd out of contention.

"He just got in there a little easier than I expected him to
and I got all over him. It's a big mistake on my part and I
apologized to him,'' Earnhardt said outside the infield care
center.

Earnhardt opened the season with a third-place finish at
Daytona, but he had three flat tires two weeks ago at California
and ended up 32nd.

"It's tough,'' he said. "We're just trying to turn it around.
We had a pretty good car the last couple of weeks, we just ain't
made the best of it.''

Robby G.'s oh-for-three
Robby Gordon's luck ran sour in Las Vegas as
motor gremlins struck for the third time in three races.

His motor went up in smoke on the 57th lap, sending him to the
garage for the day.

"It never was very strong this weekend. Finally, it just
quit,'' he said.

Gordon, who is fielding his own team this season, has had motor
problems from the start. Using engines built by open-wheel expert
John Menard, the program has yet to adjust to the changes required
to build a NASCAR powerplant.

The engine the team brought to Daytona was illegal, and
ultimately cost Gordon a spot in the season-opener. Then the motors
blew up in California and in last week's Busch race in Mexico City.

"I know we've got a good little team here, but we've got to get
this thing solved right away,'' he said.

Speed police
NASCAR's crackdown on pit road speeds this year
is keeping drivers more honest and more equal, according to the
circuit's vice president of competition.

"It's been quite nice to see when we look at the numbers and
the tower that everything is falling in within tenths of a mile an
hour for pit road speed,'' Robin Pemberton said before Sunday's
race.

The long arm of the speed gun nabbed just one driver on Sunday
who exceeded the 35 mph speed limit at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
And like most people stopped for speeding, Kevin Harvick argued the
call, which required him to pass through pit road at the proper
speed.

"I was just going the same speed as everybody else,'' Harvick
radioed his team. "You think their system is rigged?''

A crew member radioed back, "It's kind of like the fights, it
depends on who you are.''

Pemberton said, "If you go back over the course of the last
recent few years, you know, there's certain people that always get
busted for speeding.''

"There's guys that never get busted. There's more of those. And
they are very happy with the pit road speed because it's brought
everything closer where pit road speed shouldn't enter into a
position on the race track.

"Now it's down to the crews and the driver getting off the race
track and accelerating out.''

Big donation
Michael and Buffy Waltrip presented a check for
just under $1 million on Sunday to Kyle and Pattie Petty for their
Victory Junction Gang Camp.

Waltrip said in July that he would gather $1 million for the
camp, a summer home for chronically ill children.

The camp, dedicated to the memory of their son, Adam, who died
in a crash in 2000, opened in June near their Randleman, N.C.,
home.

Waltrip promoted "Operation Marathon: Going the Distance for
Kids'' operation through marathons, dinners, concerts and autograph
signings across the country, including a marathon here that he and
Petty took part in.

"Michael was my inspiration to run,'' Petty said. "People flew
out here to run ... with Michael.''

Waltrip said the exact amount of the check, $923,626.73, was
significant to him.

"It reflects the dollar-at-a-time way we raised the money,'' he
said.

Vegas expansion
Richard Petty never ran a competitive lap at Las
Vegas Motor Speedway, but by next spring's NASCAR weekend, fans
will be sitting in the Richard Petty terrace.

Speedway officials announced on Sunday that LVMS will expand its
capacity by at least 14,000 with an addition in the first turn. The
current capacity is 122,000.

Chris Powell, the speedway's general manager, said naming the
new structure for Petty was easy.

"There are only two seven-time NASCAR champions, and the
addition of the Richard Petty Terrace gives out speedway
grandstands named in honor of both of them.''

The Dale Earnhardt terrace on turn four was competed last year.