The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Sunday, September 11, 1994             TAG: 9409110214
SECTION: SPORTS                   PAGE: C13  EDITION: FINAL 
DATELINE: RICHMOND                           LENGTH: Short :   50 lines


A NASCAR inspector was chatting with Jeff Burton just before the start of the final Winston Cup practice session Saturday afternoon at Richmond International Raceway when he put his hand through the driver's window of Burton's Ford and placed his fingers on the roll bar.

What happened next triggered the first prerace Winston Cup disqualification in recent memory and led to the biggest fine since Junior Johnson was kicked out of the sport for four races in 1991.

When the inspector touched Burton's roll bar, he felt the holes - almost as big as a quarter - that had been drilled in the top of the safety cage to reduce weight.

NASCAR decided that was not only a rules violation, but also a major compromise of safety. It kicked Burton and his Stavola Brothers Racing team out of Saturday night's Miller 400 and fined the team $10,000.

``The integrity of the roll cage was compromised,'' NASCAR Winston Cup director Gary Nelson said. ``And the roll cage's ability to withstand impact is really the backbone of the car.''

Burton, 27, of South Boston, who had driven that same car eight or 10 times this year, including last weekend at Darlington, said he was just as surprised as NASCAR that the hidden holes existed.

``If Jeff Burton would have known about it, he wouldn't have sat in it,'' Burton said. ``I laid in the hospital for a week (in 1988) with a broken back, and I understand safety.

``To be honest, it's stupid. The weight that was saved by drilling holes was maybe a pound or 2 pounds. And we just put 25 pounds of roof flaps in the roof. It's probably the dumbest thing I've ever seen done in an effort to make something light.''

Crew chief Ken Wilson said he also was unaware of the holes.

``Some previous workers took it upon themselves to make these changes,'' Wilson said. ``I don't see too much advantage. I'm not too satisfied with what was done. I really don't see no reasoning for it.''

Burton was shaken not only by the disqualification, but also by the nature of it.

``You don't build anything when it comes to safety and then drill holes in it,'' he said. ``It's (expletive) stupid. . . . There's been a lot of teams that haven't made all the races. I am one rookie who has made all the races. And I take a lot of pride in that. And to not make this race because of this is pretty hard to take.'' by CNB