Boring race? Drivers disagree over Coca-Cola 600

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 25, 2008

AP Sports Writer

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — A week after the non-points, winner-take-all All-Star race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway produced no cautions and little passing, several drivers believe Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 will be a bore.

Blame it on the much-maligned Car of Tomorrow.

MORE COVERAGE: 600 starting lineup | Interactive driver listing

“I think you’re going to see the same thing,” points leader Kyle Busch told reporters. “Not much to write about, is there?”

The biggest complaint about the car on intermediate tracks is the difficulty passing in so-called dirty air, when cars are in a pack behind the leader. A car that gets into the front in clean air has a clear advantage.

“It was amazing to me that in the All-Star race we didn’t have a caution and we didn’t have any wrecks,” Carl Edwards said. “I think that the 25-lap runs kind of made it hard to see a lot of passing and racing because for 25 laps you can drive these things white-knuckle and clean air meant a lot.”

Tony Stewart expects more of the same in NASCAR’s longest race.

“The rules haven’t changed,” Stewart said. “Guys will get their cars a little better, having last week as a practice for this weekend. I don’t think it’s going to be a big difference.”

Not everyone agrees. Greg Biffle thinks having a 43-car field instead of the 24-car lineup for All-Star race is important because the leader will contend with lapped cars in the 400-lap race.

“I think you’re going to see passing,” said Biffle, who was the fastest in Saturday’s afternoon practice. “You’re going to see strategy, definitely. You’re going to see two tires, four tires, no tires (pit stops). And then a guy is going to have to come and put on tires and he’s going to be back in traffic. It’s going to be exciting.”

CARS IMPOUNDED: NASCAR confiscated the cars of Haas Racing teammates Scott Riggs and Johnny Sauter on Saturday after discovering their crews had illegal rear wing mounts on the Chevrolets.

Riggs, who had qualified 13th in the No. 66, and Sauter, who was scheduled to start last in the No. 70, will have to use backup cars and start from the rear of the field on Sunday.

NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said the cars passed inspection after qualifying Thursday, but they were alerted from other teams Saturday morning that the cars had since been altered.

“The garage is what I would say a fairly self-policing area,” Tharp said. “We follow up on information that we get, and we’re constantly inspecting race cars.”

The Haas teams and their crew chiefs will likely face further penalties after Sunday’s race.

NEW STAR? Joey Logano is legal. Now let the hype begin for NASCAR’s most talked-about young driver.

Joe Gibbs Racing unveiled a giant birthday cake and owner Joe Gibbs sang to Logano, who turned 18 on Saturday. That makes him eligible to compete in the Nationwide Series, and Logano will make his debut next weekend at Dover in a car sponsored by video game retailer GameStop.

“It’s a very big day for us,” Gibbs said. “I kept telling Joey, ‘Cheat. Pay something, move it up, find another birthday.’ We couldn’t wait to get him on the race track.”

Logano started racing in quarter-midgets at age 6 and later became the youngest champion in Legends Car history. A month after Gibbs signed the then-15-year-old to the team’s development program, Logano won a Hooters Pro Cup race.

He continued his success through lower forms of racing, and won an ARCA race earlier this month.

“I feel like I’m ready to go out there and win races,” Logano said. “I’ve been waiting on this birthday forever.”

HUMPY’S DEPARTURE: Outgoing Lowe’s Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler declined a severance package offered by Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith.

“I turned down a small settlement of less than a month’s earnings because I didn’t want to sign a very restrictive agreement,” Wheeler said Saturday in an e-mail.

The 69-year-old Wheeler abruptly announced his retirement on Wednesday, saying he made the move after a disagreement with Smith over “compensation and other matters.”

Wheeler said he wanted to move to a part-time role, but Smith declined. Wheeler, known as one of NASCAR’s top promoters, will end his 33-year career at the track after Sunday’s race.

“I have done well because I have helped him build a huge company,” Wheeler said. “We have had many disagreements but that is what makes the world turn. If you are at the top you need people around that will tell you like it is.”

DON’T BE CROOKED: The crooked car era is ending.

NASCAR sent out a bulletin informing teams that over the next two weeks they’ll have to stop altering the rear axles so the fender skews to the right.

Jimmie Johnson said he first saw the look on Carl Edwards’ car at Daytona.

“The No. 99 shows up at the start of the season and his car is twisted,” Johnson said. “We were like, ‘How in the world does that happen?’ And then it’s grown to what it is now and cars are literally cruising down the road at 30 or 40 degrees dead sideways.”

The practice is believed to help cars get traction in the turns, but NASCAR doesn’t want major changes to the uniform Car of Tomorrow.

“It is good that NASCAR is not letting it get too out of hand,” Denny Hamlin said. “These cars were made to drive straight.”

LUG NUTS: Defending Coca-Cola 600 champion Casey Mears has no wins and only two top-10 finishes this season. … Kevin Harvick wasn’t hurt Saturday afternoon when he was one of four drivers to hit the wall in Nationwide Series qualifying. … Ty Dillon, the 16-year-old grandson of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, won a late-model race Friday at the dirt tack next to Lowe’s Motor Speedway.