Carl Long's best Cup Series finish came at Lowe's Motor Speedway in 2001 and he got married at the track's luxurious Speedway Club two years later.
"This place has been pretty good to me," Long said Thursday. "I sure hope my career doesn't end here."
Long was suspended 12 races, docked 200 points and essentially fined $200,000 for having an illegal engine at Lowe's last weekend. All were record penalties for the sport.
Long appealed the punishment Thursday, hoping the National Stock Car Racing Commission will reduce the figures at a June 2 hearing. NASCAR, meanwhile, deferred Long's suspension until the hearing, allowing him to return to his full-time job as a crew member for the No. 34 Chevrolet.
So the part-time driver was back at work Thursday, but still trying to comes to terms with a ruling that threatens to end the racing career of a guy who struggles to pay his bills every month.
"I'm still in shock," Long said. "I just hope the people in the hearing ... common sense has got to take place. Somewhere in the world, sometime, common sense has to come out. I can bash NASCAR and everybody around me, but let's exhaust every avenue there is to exhaust and then if we have to go out and have a parade about it, we will."
Long, who made 23 races between 2000 and 2006, said he bought the engine from a "reputable builder" who fields motors for several Cup teams and said all the paperwork showed it was within NASCAR specifications. It malfunctioned during practice for the All-Star race Friday, prompting the team to change engines.
Under NASCAR rules, any engine removed from a car is subject to inspection. The owner, though, has the option of turning the engine over to NASCAR or loading up his car and leaving the track. So had Long even suspected the engine would fail NASCAR's exam, he said he would have left the speedway.
Instead, he turned the engine over without hesitation.
He failed to qualify for the All-Star race with a backup motor, and then learned Wednesday how costly the entire trip turned out to be.
NASCAR measured the engine at 358.17 cubic inches, .17 more than legal limit. Long was suspended 12 races and docked 200 points _ 200 more than he has this season. His crew chief, Charles Swing, was fined $200,000, $50,000 more than the previous record. And team owner DeeDee Long, Carl's wife, also was suspended 12 races and docked 200 owner points. All three of them were placed on probation until Dec. 31.
"If you talk to any of the race teams in the garage, they'll be real quick to tell you you don't mess with engines, tires and fuel," Cup Series director John Darby said. "We've all heard that for years and years and years."
Darby said NASCAR hasn't dealt with an oversized engine since car owner Junior Johnson and crew chief Tim Brewer were suspended 12 weeks for violations at Charlotte in 1991. Their suspensions was reduced to four weeks on appeal.
Long would like the same leniency.
He also would like to see Swing's fine reduce, because if a crew chief doesn't pay a fine, it falls to the car owner. And in this case, that's the Longs.
"I can never pay it," Long said. "It won't ever happen. I'll cease to have a NASCAR license. ... All my life, everything I've done has all been to race, and I've really wanted to set NASCAR records _ not this one."
Word of the penalties quickly spread through the garage Thursday, and although several drivers said it would be a disastrous penalty for Long, they added that it was no surprise NASCAR came down so hard on the low-budget, little-sponsored team.
"It's unfortunate for Carl because he probably had someone throw a motor together for him to get to the race track," Martin Truex Jr. said. "That's unfortunate. But you want to come Cup racing and you don't obey the rules, they're gonna get you.
"When's the last time you heard of someone having a big motor? That's 1970s kind of stuff. That's Junior Johnson. That's old stuff. People know better than to mess with that right now."
Jeff Burton agreed.
"We have seen over the years an escalation in penalties, an escalation in money, and big engines are something that NASCAR seems to have no tolerance for," he said. "That's a really, really big penalty, especially for Carl and the financial situation they're in. If you never make people regret doing the wrong thing, they'll never do the right thing, so I'm in favor of big penalties because I think it makes it where people don't want to mess around."
But Long questioned whether the penalty would be the same if it involved one of NASCAR's stars.
"I don't know how they come up with that stuff," he said. "I think if you told Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. he had to stay home for 12 weeks, the fans would be a little short and start rioting."