It happens every year before the
beginning of Speedweeks, when the Winston Cup cars goes through technical inspection
before practice begins.
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
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
"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.