RICHMOND, Va. -- Mark Martin captured NASCAR's $458,000 Pontiac Excitement 400 Sunday with just a second to spare, but his victory was tainted when race inspectors fined him $40,000 for using an illegal engine part -- the largest fine in stock car racing history.
Martin's victory was allowed to stand, but he was docked 46 champion points and was forced to turn over more than two-thirds of his winnings. NASCAR Competition Director Dick Beaty said the victory wouldnot count toward the lucrative Winner's Circle championship.
Martin had left the Richmond International Raceway, still thinking his team earnings would be $59,150 before the result of the post-race inspection was announced Sunday night. Martin's car owner, engine expert Jack Roush, left the track without comment.
The engine in Martin's Ford was fitted with a 2 1-2 inch carburetor spacer, although NASCAR allows spacers of no more than two inches. Beaty said he didn't know if the spacer gives the engine more power, however, one rival team owner said the spacer enables the engine to take in more air and thus generate more horsepower.
NASCAR has long had a policy of leniency in fining winners who fail to pass post-race inspections. Though in 1983 Richard Petty won a race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway using illegal tires and an illegal engine and was fined $35,000 -- the largest previous fine. But his victory still stands as one of his record total of 200.
Martin's team has 30 days to appeal the action, but under NASCAR rules rival teams have no avenue to have the win disallowed. Martin's car recorded the fastest lap of any race leader during the 400-lap event. After the race Martin said he could have gone faster.
'The car was phenomenal,' he said.
Martin never led until the final 15 laps when a bit of pit strategy made him the race leader. He pulled away from a squabbling Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace and finished a little more than a second ahead of Earnhardt.
Martin's Ford had been one of the faster cars on the track but as the race wound down, he had been unable to gain the lead. When a spinout brought out the caution flag with 17 laps to go, most of the leaders headed for the pits and four fresh tires.
Martin's crew, however, decided on a quick two-tire stop and got Martin back on the track ahead of the field. After the green flag, Martin started pulling away -- and two drivers who had led for most of the race, Wallace and Earnhardt, battled for second place.
Earnhardt, who had started last in a backup car after crashing in Saturday's final practice session, put the nose of his Chevrolet under the bumper of Wallace's Pontiac. By the time Wallace recovered from the thump, he had slipped from second to sixth.
Martin finished more than a second ahead of Earnhardt while pole-sitter Ricky Rudd finished third. Bill Elliott finished fourth in a Ford while Dick Trickle, last year's rookie of the year, finished fifth in a Pontiac.
Martin said his crew set up his car's chassis for maximum speed at the expense of stability, and that it was 'no surprise' that he posted the fastest single lap of the day -- at 120.32 mph.
'The guys were brilliant,' said Martin of his crew. 'They made all the right choices in a split second.'
Earnhardt moved to the lead in the driver's points race with 340. Rudd has 335 points, Elliott has 330.
Following Wallace was Morgan Shepherd's Ford, Brett Bodine's Buick, Jimmy Spencer's Pontiac and Ken Schrader's Chevrolet. All finished on the lead lap.
NASCSAR's all-time victory leader, Petty, hit a wall after 83 laps and finished 35th. Harry Gant blew an engine after 75 laps and finished dead last.