Truex takes major hit in points standings

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Martin Truex's bid to make the Chase for the championship took a severe hit Tuesday when NASCAR penalized his Dale Earnhardt Inc. team 150 points for bringing an illegal car to Daytona.

Truex's car failed its initial inspection last week at Daytona because the No. 1 Chevrolet failed to fit NASCAR's roof template. NASCAR officials seized the car and sent it to their Research and Development Center in Concord for further inspection.

”We've dug ourselves a hole but we're not giving up. This team seems to respond the best when its back is against the wall,“ said Truex, who missed the only practice session before Saturday night's race because of the illegal car.

”We brought a new car to Daytona and it fit all of the templates at our shop. It doesn't appear to have been anything intentional on our part but it was still our responsibility. We'll deal with it and move on.“

The 150-point penalty drops Truex from 14th in the standings to 18th. The top 12 drivers make the Chase, and Truex has just eight races to get back into contention.

In addition, crew chief Kevin ”Bono“ Manion and car chief Gary Putnam were suspended from the next six races and placed on probation until the end of the year.

Manion was also fined $100,000.

John Story, vice president of motorsports operations at DEI, said the team will use its 10-day window to decide if it will appeal the penalty.

”We are still trying to understand how the car fit our templates multiple times at the shop, but we respect NASCAR's determination that one of our cars did not exactly conform to their template at the track,“ Story said.

Truex, who won his only career Sprint Cup Series race last year at Dover, was DEI's only driver in championship contention. He made the Chase last season, but finished 11th in the final standings.

This year has not been as solid for Truex, who has just five top-10 finishes through 18 races.

The penalty comes at a tumultuous time for DEI.

Truex, the star of the team since Dale Earnhardt Jr. left this year, is also in a contract negotiation that has yet to be resolved; 2009 is an option year for both the team and the driver, but Truex has not yet agreed to return.

In addition, teammate Mark Martin said last week he's leaving at the end of the season to drive for Hendrick Motorsports. DEI plans to promote Aric Almirola into that seat full time, but sponsorship is in question as the U.S. Army has been shopping its funding across the garage.

Also, teammate Regan Smith's team has had just partial sponsorship all season and DEI has acknowledged it may have to cut down to just three teams if funding for Smith's car isn't found.

Navy bailing on Earnhardt

Add Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the growing list of car owners searching for sponsorship.

The Navy is leaving the No. 88 Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series at the end of the season, forcing Earnhardt to search for funding for the flagship car at JR Motorsports.

”We were informed last week that our sponsorship with the U.S. Navy will not renew at the end of the year,“ team spokesman Mike Davis said Tuesday. ”It's been an exceptional partnership since 2005, and we look forward to a strong finish to the season as Brad Keselowski and the No. 88 Navy team contends for a NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.“

Keselowski gave the Navy its first NASCAR victory last month with a Nationwide win at Milwaukee. He's second in the series standings, and trails Clint Bowyer by 202 points.

The Navy has been sponsor of Earnhardt's first car as a NASCAR owner since the formation of JR Motorsports. Last year, he merged his operation with Hendrick Motorsports and now fields two cars out of his new shop in Mooresville.