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Gordon’s car fails an inspection

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NASCAR officials inspect the car of driver Jeff Gordon on Thursday. It failed the inspection.

NASCAR officials inspect the car of driver Jeff Gordon on Thursday. It failed the inspection.

John Raoux, Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Just when it looked like racing would snatch the spotlight from the cheaters at Daytona, Jeff Gordon's winning car failed inspection.

Gordon, who won the second of Thursday's two 150-mile qualifying races, now will start the Daytona 500 in 42nd place.

NASCAR inspectors said his Chevrolet was almost an inch too low but blamed it on a part failure — not cheating. He was not stripped of the victory.

"We feel it was unintentional and actually fairly unsafe," said NASCAR competition director Robin Pemberton. "We feel that it was a part failure, and we feel that it was unintentionally done."

NASCAR said it believed a mechanic made a mistake when the shocks were installed before the race.

Gordon's car was the sixth team in three days to be caught with technical violations. The earlier problems led to expulsions, suspensions, fines and loss of championship points — and the season hasn't even begun.

The most serious of the violations was committed by the new team of Michael Waltrip, whose Toyota failed inspection after an illegal substance was found in the gas line. His crew chief and team director were suspended indefinitely and kicked out of Daytona International Speedway. Waltrip was docked 100 driver and car owner points.

That was on the heels of lesser violations by the teams of Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler and Scott Riggs, whose crew chiefs all were fined and suspended. All drivers also lost points.

"You couldn't stage this stuff, even if you wanted to," Pemberton said.

Roush Fenway Racing president Geoff Smith said the team "clearly" is going to file an appeal for the penalty assessed to driver Matt Kenseth earlier in the week, on the basis that NASCAR's system of assessing penalties is inconsistent.

"I'm sitting here, and Michael Waltrip gets two-thirds the penalty of the last fuel additive alteration situation, and (Kenseth) got an unprecedented, never-seen-before penalty," Smith said. "Now you've got Jeff Gordon, who gets absolutely nothing for a deal that was similar to ours."

Gordon learned his car had failed inspection while finishing his post-race news conference.

"Are you serious? That sucks. I'm mad about that right now," he said with a look of disbelief on his face.

Tony Stewart was the day's first winner, taking the first 150-mile qualifying race to firmly establish himself as the Daytona 500 favorite. There were no questions about his victory as he easily held off former 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the closing laps.

To add the Daytona 500 to his 11 other Daytona wins, Stewart likely will have to beat Earnhardt. It's expected that three-time Daytona winner Gordon, who charged from fourth to first on the final lap of the second race, still will be a top challenger, even starting from the rear.

Others who failed to make the race included former open-wheel star A.J. Allmendinger and his teammate Brian Vickers.