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    Your Cheatin' Heart

    NASCAR slam-dunked Michael Waltrip Racing on Wednesday after pre- and post-qualifying inspections discovered a substance within thewaltrip3.JPGintake manifold that turned out to be an illegal performance-enhancing fuel additive. NASCAR fined crew chief David Hyder a record $100,000 and suspended him indefinitely from the sport, along with director of competition Bobby Kennedy. Waltrip was docked 100 driver points and his wife, car owner Buffy Waltrip, was docked 100 owner points as well, and the qualifying effort of the #55 NAPA Toyota was disallowed.  The loss of owner points will probably hurt MWR the most: consider the fact that only the top 35 cars in owner points are guaranteed a starting position in any Nextel Cup event, and now Waltrip will be starting over 100 pts behind the last-place finisher in the Daytona 500.  The #55 team knew it had to get its qualifying program together in a hurry, or it stood a chance of missing a vast majority of the season, and that certainly wouldn't make NAPA or Toyota very happy at all.

    So the big question is, what were you thinking, Michael? Well, the probable answer is, he might not have had any knowledge of it personally. Judging by the fines levied, NASCAR found reason to implicate Hyder and Kennedy as evidenced by their indefinite suspensions. The pressure to bring three brand new race teams (#55 Waltrip, #44 Jarrett, #00 Reutimann) into NASCAR's most competitive circuit might've been enough pressure to make certain individuals at MWR to cross the ethics line. Let's not lose sight of the fact that two other crew members have been suspended from the Daytona 500 and three ensuing races: Roush Racing's Robbie Reiser, crew chief of #17 Matt Kenseth, and Kenny Francis, Team Director for Ray Evernham's #9 Kasey Kahne team. Two other Evernham Team Directors were also fined and suspended for two races, Elliott Sadler's Josh Browne and Scott Riggs' Rodney Childers. Cheating is cheating, but not necessarily in NASCAR's view: the Evernham and Roush suspensions revolve around aerodynamics, while Waltrip's team messed with the fuel, and as NASCAR spokesman Robin Pemberton said in yesterday's press conference, fuel and tires are taboo.  

    It's almost unimaginable that Waltrip's team could have taken such a chance with so much on the line, but their driver went a long way in redeeming them by racing his way into the Daytona 500 in the first 150-mile race today. MWR still has a long way to go to get competitive but their leader sucked it up and got it done on the track, so in spite of all the ramifications that have yet to be played out, Toyota has promised to stand behind their flagship driver, so this rain cloud has a silver lining for Waltrip.

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