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Checkered flag falls, outcome still in doubt

March 03, 1997

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Rusty Wallace managed to avoid hard-driving Jeff Gordon and finish first in the Pontiac Excitement 400 Sunday, but he might not have won the race.

Four hours after Wallace crossed the finish line, NASCAR officials announced they had taken the engine from his Ford for ``failing to meet compression ratio specifications.''

NASCAR spokesman Kevin Triplett said the engine had been tested more than once and did not comply with the organization's 14-to-1 compression standard. The inspection is routine for the winner's engine and at least two others after each race.

Triplett said there will be more testing on the engine before a ruling is announced, probably today.

Wallace and his had left the grounds of Richmond International Raceway late Sunday, and could not be reached for comment.

It is unlikely that Wallace will be stripped of the victory, given the precedent established by NASCAR when it determined that the 198th of Richard Petty's 200 career victories - in the Miller 500 at Charlotte in 1983 - was achieved with an illegal engine. The sanctioning body also permitted Mark Martin to keep a victory when an illegal part was discovered after he won this race seven years ago.

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In both cases, fines were assessed, crew members punished and Winston Cups points forfeited. But NASCAR decided that the driver the fans saw take the checkered flag would remain the winner.

It also is possible Wallace would lose all or part of the $86,775 he earned for the victory.

Under the current points system it would be extremely difficult for a driver to forfeit 180 points - which Wallace earned in the victory - and still win the crown. A loss of all the points would leave Wallace about 30 short of what he would have earned by finishing last.

Wallace wasn't pleased with Gordon's tactics late in the race.

Racing a lap down to the leaders, Gordon desperately jockeyed to get ahead of them in case another caution came out. That would have put him fifth in line for the resulting restart, giving him a chance to win.

Ernie Irvan said Gordon ran over the left front of his car, sending him smashing into the wall on the fourth turn with on the 393rd of 400 laps. He was fourth at the time, and promised to remember what Gordon cost him and pay him back.

Irvan wound up 36th when he couldn't finish the race.

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