DAYTONA BEACH – 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 unitentionally done. I think it would be marginal at best if there was any advantage.
"I am 100 percent sure this is unintentional."
NASCAR said it believed a mechanic made a mistake when the shocks were installed before the race.
Gordon's 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.
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.
Asked what the penalty should be, Gordon wasn't sure.
"I mean, what do I think it should be? It's whatever NASCAR decides for it to be. That's what it should be. I mean, I think I should start the Daytona 500 on Sunday, but where I start will be the other thing.
Turns out that will be next to last.
"We're not going to take a win away from anybody," Pemberton said. "And the penalty is the tail end."