NASCAR: Race postponed

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 4, 2011

By Paul Newberry
Associated Press
HAMPTON, Ga. — With the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee bearing down on Georgia, NASCAR postponed its race at Atlanta Motor Speedway until Tuesday.
Officials hoped to get the race in as scheduled Sunday night, but outer bands of the massive storm brought light rain to the track late in the afternoon.
Many of the pre-race festivities went on as scheduled, including driver introductions, the national anthem and a concert by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Blowers were sent out shortly after the scheduled 7:30 p.m. start time, and NASCAR thought there was about a three-hour window to get in at least a shortened race. Then, about two hours later and with the track nearly dry, another burst of rain drenched the track.
It wasn’t even on the radar.
“We were probably about 25 to 30 minutes from dropping the green flag,” said Ed Clark, president of Atlanta Motor Speedway. “We don’t know where it came from.”
At that point, it would have taken another three hours to dry the track again — even if the rain held off — and the race wouldn’t have started until after midnight.
“That’s just not fair to the fans,” Clark said.
NASCAR won’t even bother trying to get the race in Monday, considering a forecast that called for 4 to 5 inches of rain and high winds in the afternoon as what was left from the still potent storm moved through the Atlanta area.
“First and foremost, we had to consider the safety of the fans,” Clark said. “We just thought it was best to step back, get reorganized and put on a great show Tuesday.”
If the weather cooperates, that is.
The Tuesday forecast called for a 70 percent chance of rain.
Weather issues are nothing new at this 1.54-mile track, located about 30 miles south of Atlanta. A spring blizzard forced a 1993 race to be postponed for a week. Since 2000, three races have been bumped back to Monday, and another was shortened because of inclement weather.
The weather had been warm and sunny for the first two days of the weekend. A truck race was run Friday night, and the Nationwide Series was on the track Saturday night.
Then the tropical storm arrived, keeping the Sprint Cup teams in Atlanta for an extra two days. They will now have a very crowded scheduled heading into next Saturday’s race at Richmond, the final event before the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Eight Chase drivers from last season, including five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, are scheduled to be at the White House on Wednesday to be honored by President Obama.
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon was at a photo shoot for one of his sponsors when he learned that he, too, had clinched a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup title.
It took some advanced computing for NASCAR to determine that Gordon, who ranked sixth in the standings heading to Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, was assured of at least a wild card.
The governing body had previously announced that Kyle Busch, five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick were assured of being in the 12-driver playoff.
“I’m not that good at math,” Gordon joked. “I still have not gotten clarification as to what happened.”
He hasn’t won a title since 2001, but this has been a bit of a comeback year for the 40-year-old. He’s already won twice — after managing only one victory the last three years combined — and looks like a prime contender to end teammate Jimmie Johnson’s unprecedented run of five straight championships.
“We’re having a really good season and it seems like we are gaining momentum and getting stronger as the season goes on,” Gordon said. “It certainly has me extremely excited about the next couple of races and the 10 weeks that follow for the championship.”
He credited first-year crew chief Alan Gustafson with giving him the necessary spark to turn things around.
“Alan and our group have done an awesome job this year getting me comfortable, getting me the confidence I need to go out there and step it up,” Gordon said. “We have a lot of confidence in what we are doing. Hopefully we can keep that going.”
Kevin Harvick plopped down in front of the television after practice to watch defending national champion Auburn rally for a victory over Utah State on the opening weekend of the college football season.
He was a bit baffled by Auburn’s nickname.
“Watching Auburn and really don’t understand why they call them the War Eagles … I thought they were the Tigers … Help me understand,” Harvick wrote on Twitter.
While several Alabama fans quickly chimed in to give their opinion (sorry, can’t repeat those here), here’s the answer: the school’s nickname is Tigers, while “War Eagle” is their battle cry. And if that’s not confusing enough, Auburn’s mascot is an eagle … named Tiger.
MONEY RACE: Someone could get a huge payoff in Sunday’s race.
While much of the attention has focused on the Sprint Summer Showdown, which will pay $3 million if an eligible driver wins the AdvoCare 500, two small-business owners could become millionaires.
Kacie Howard and Sara Mortensen were picked as finalists for an Office Depot promotion that will award $1 million if either of their designated drivers wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Howard, who is paired with Tony Stewart, owns HuckleBerry Pets in Daytona Beach, Fla., a company that offers customized pet beds. Mortensen, owner of Bales Mold Service in Downers Grove, Ill., will be cheering for Greg Biffle.
Both finalists have already won $10,000, earned a trip to Atlanta and had their company’s logo placed on the back of each driver’s car.
Mortensen and her sister took over the family business after their father died unexpectedly in 2009.
“It’s been a tough couple of years, and that’s why we’re so happy to be part of this,” she said. “We hope this kind of rejuvenates us and our employees.”
OMINOUS FORECAST: Everyone will be watching the skies Sunday night, with Tropical Storm Lee pushing north from the Gulf Coast.
Forecasters said there is 50 percent chance of rain even before the race, increasing to 80 percent when the cars are scheduled to be on the track, with possible thunderstorms.
The storm was producing heavy rainfall, flooding and tornadoes from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
“I want to run,” Clint Bowyer said. “But this weather isn’t looking too good.”
Lee could also keep temperatures lower than Saturday’s qualifying and practice sessions, which could affect plans for how tires will stick to the notorious Atlanta track. The forecast called for a high of 84 degrees on race day, 10 degrees cooler than Saturday’s high.
LUG NUTS: Brian Keselowski and Mike Harmon failed to qualify for Saturday night’s Nationwide race. … Boise native Brian Scott qualified 19th while sporting the blue of his hometown football team. Boise State was in Atlanta to face Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
The Associated Press
09/03/11 18:36