NASCAR has had plenty of embarrassing moments, not surprising in a sport in which one of the main goals is to push the limits of technology. Darrell Waltrip, one of the sport's greatest ambassadors and champions, said in 1976, "If you don't cheat, you look like an idiot; if you cheat and don't get caught, you look like a hero; if you cheat and get caught, you look like a dope."
But the NASCAR nation has had its collective face turn red often, for reasons that have nothing to do with stretching the rules. For every team that has loaded up its roll cage with buckshot to meet the minimum requirements (and then had the driver release the buckshot as he drove around the track to make the car lighter), there's an incident such as Wendell Scott's sole career victory. Wendell is the only African-American to win a NASCAR race, a Florida race in 1963. But second-place finisher Buck Baker took the checkered flag, was swamped by officials and pretty girls in Victory Lane, and then handed the trophy. Scott was later told that there was a scoring error and that he was indeed the winner. He didn't get his trophy until a month later, with little fanfare.
But those events predate NASCAR's modern era, which started with the 1972 season and title sponsorship from Winston. Here are NASCAR's most embarrassing moments since then (and we won't even count 30 years of title sponsorship from a tobacco company).
1. The King and Pettygate, Oct. 9, 1983
Richard Petty was dubbed The King because he claimed seven NASCAR titles, won almost twice as many races as any other driver in history (200) and captured the hearts of stock-car fans like no other. But in October 1983, Petty found himself in a royal mess.
He had won the 198th race of his career at Charlotte, but NASCAR officials quickly discovered that he had used four left-side tires. The tactic was an old one to pick up speed, but it was still against the rules. As the postrace inspection continued, inspectors found that Petty's engine was at least 20 cubic inches bigger than the rules allowed.
Richard's crew chief and brother, Maurice Petty, quickly accepted blame for the transgressions and said that his brother knew nothing of the irregularities. Hours later NASCAR announced that Petty Enterprises would be fined a then-record $35,000 and would be stripped of 104 points. While the win stood, Pettygate had long-lasting effects. Maurice's reputation never recovered, and Richard left his family team at the end of the season.
2.That'll cost you a title: Feb. 25, 1990
Early in the 1990 season, Mark Martin won at Richmond. The postrace inspection, however, found a carburetor spacer plate in Martin's engine that was half an inch too tall -- an infraction, but one that would create little extra horsepower. NASCAR still penalized Martin's team 46 points and fined his crew chief (Robin Pemberton, now NASCAR's vice president of competition)$40,000. The penalty ultimately cost Martin the driver's championship: He finished 26 points behind Dale Earnhardt for the 1990 title.