Vegas gives Earnhardt a sinking feeling

The UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 lasted just 12 laps for Dale Earnhardt Jr. before he wrecked out of the race.

By wire services
Published March 14, 2005

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

Earnhardt dropped to 27th in points 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 34th. Then, 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."

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, 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 opener. Then the motors blew up in California and in last weekend's Busch series 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," Gordon said.

SPEED POLICE: NASCAR's crackdown on pit road speeds 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.

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 racetrack.

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

BIG DONATION: Michael and Buffy Waltrip presented a check for just under $1-million 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 the Pettys' son, Adam, who died in a practice crash in 2000, opened in June near their Randleman, N.C., home.

Waltrip promoted "Operation Marathon: Going the Distance for Kids" 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.

NEW STANDS: Richard Petty never ran a competitive lap here, 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 our speedway grandstands named in honor of both of them."

The Dale Earnhardt terrace on Turn 4 was competed last year.