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Rejected appeal keeps Martin a title longshot

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 17, 2002

HOMESTEAD -- Roush Racing's appeal of a 25-point penalty to Mark Martin was rejected Saturday, hurting the veteran driver's chance of winning the Winston Cup championship.

Martin, driver of the No. 6 Ford, was docked the points for using an unapproved spring Nov. 3 at Rockingham. NASCAR's rule book states that springs must measure 41/2 coils; Martin's was 43/8.

A three-person panel from the National Stock Car Racing Commission upheld NASCAR's ruling.

The commission issued a statement: "The spring rule as written is clear. The spring from the No. 6 car did not meet the requirements of the rule. NASCAR acted fairly and consistently in issuing the penalties."

Martin trails leader Tony Stewart by 89 points going into today's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the season's final race. Stewart can clinch by finishing 22nd.

Roush Racing president Geoff Smith argued the penalty was unfair because the part came from a NASCAR-approved manufacturer, had not been altered and did not enhance the car's performance. He believed it was a strong case but was not surprised by the decision.

"When I woke up this morning, I was pretty sure that the oceans wouldn't boil and pigs wouldn't fly and that NASCAR wouldn't change its mind, and that all got corroborated today," Smith said.

JUST ANOTHER RACE?: Stewart does not expect special treatment from his competitors on the track just because he is racing for the championship. He may get it anyway.

"I hope they race just as hard as they always do," Stewart said. "This is just one of 36 races. We all have to race hard. If 43 guys don't race to win, I'll be very disappointed."

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon said he will race to win, but should the circumstance arise he will give plenty of room to Stewart and Martin, the only drivers who can win the title.

"Absolutely, those guys have worked hard all year long to get in that position," Gordon said. "Now, I'm going to race for a win and if they want to battle me for a win they're putting themselves in a little bit of jeopardy. But I'm going to do everything I can to race them clean and give them the respect they deserve to race for a championship.

"You'd hate to see a championship taken away from a guy because somebody just gets into him and turns him around and knocks him out of the race. I certainly don't want to be that person."

PIT STOPS: Elliott Sadler's No. 21 Ford was fastest in the final practice with a lap of 148.678 mph. ... Anheuser-Busch announced it extended its sponsorship of the Grand National series through 2007.

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