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Saturday, February 10
Inspections a regular part of Daytona 500
ESPN.com news services
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It's an annual ritual at the Daytona 500 -- NASCAR inspectors forcing Dale Earnhardt's crew to cut up the Chevrolet and make changes before passing it through technical inspection.
Earnhardt's car unloaded off the trailer as a sleek, black racing machine Thursday afternoon, but by the time the technical inspectors had their way, Earnhardt's car was primer gray.
Team owner Richard Childress admits Earnhardt's Chevrolet pushes the limit of rules, but says the team is not cheating.
"We do push and get everything we can, but I feel sometime there are a lot of little things that they push us too, mostly because everybody in this garage area is watching what they do to us," Childress said. "They expect the No. 3 car is going to run good with Dale Earnhardt in it. If they don't really give us the complete go over and we go through inspection, the other competitors will say they aren't hard enough on them. I think it's a little bit of that."
Childress said a lot of the changes NASCAR forced the team to make were nit-picking infractions.
"It was just a number of little things that we felt weren't justifiable, but if that is what they wanted, we did what they wanted," Childress said. "We had our template fittings to the tolerance. There were some things they didn't like or they held them different for whatever reason. I do see other cars go through inspection that doesn't quite have the problem the black No. 3 does. I'm not saying NASCAR is doing anything different with the 3, but we have a tougher time with the 3 than we should going through inspection."
Childress said his team's other car, the No. 31 driven by Mike Skinner, passed through inspection without any problems and got the technical sticker the first time through.
"I think the 3 car is pretty well scrutinized," Childress said. "They have to do it to show the competitors in here the 3 car isn't getting away with anything."
Actually, some of Earnhardt's crew members look at the annual ritual of NASCAR technical inspectors huddling over Earnhardt's Chevrolet as a good-luck charm. The years Earnhardt has done the best in the Daytona 500 are the years NASCAR inspectors have made him change the car the most before it passes technical inspection.
"That is our plan this week, to go out and try to win some races with these cars," Childress said. "We felt we came the closest we have ever come to meeting the superspeedway regulations. As a matter of fact, it's the exact car without changes, that we ran at Talladega that passed through inspection there."
Kevin Triplett, NASCAR's director of operations, said the inspectors aren't singling out Earnhardt other than ensuring that the team stays within the guidelines of the rules.
"They have been creative the last few restrictor plate races, but they are not alone," Triplett said. "There are several that have to make changes. I don't know a single team here that went through inspection the very first time on Thursday without having to go fix something. That's normal.
"It's not a typical race -- it's the Daytona 500, plus they have had all winter to go work on things rather than three days to get ready for the next race. And, they had an entire day of inspection rather than roll off the trucks and are on the track in four hours. It's a little bit different scenario."
Evidence to Triplett's point is a table that sits next to the NASCAR trailer in the garage area. Confiscated parts that were determined to be illegal sit on that table for other competitors to see, along with a tag to show the offending party.
"It's very similar to a college football team that has four weeks off before its bowl game that practically rewrites their playbook," Triplett said. "They have plays they haven't run all year but they have time to work on them. It's the same thing with these guys.
"It's our job and we've heard the teams like nit-picky and everything else to build the tolerance in the rule book. The tolerance is already there. That is why they are competitors and if they even remotely think somebody in the garage area is doing it, then they feel that they have to do it to be competitive and it's our job to make them understand they are all playing with the same deck of cards."
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