Commentary

Did the Auto Club 500 show have to go on? Many drivers said no

First there was a rain delay. Then there were weepers on the track. Big crash? Yep. Then more rain. Did the Auto Club 500 show have to go on? Many drivers didn't think so, writes David Newton.

Updated: February 25, 2008, 2:22 AM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

FONTANA, Calif. -- What a weird weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

[+] EnlargeDale Earnhardt Jr
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireDale Earnhardt Jr.'s car was a mess after getting hit by the car of teammate Casey Mears.

It was made even weirder by NASCAR's decision to start Sunday's Sprint Cup race when the track apparently wasn't ready.

Let's start at the beginning. It rained off and on the entire weekend in Southern California, where precipitation falls about as often as Britney Spears goes a day without being in the news. Jet blowers used to dry the track on Friday and again on Sunday burned off some of the sealer used to repair cracks.

Water then began seeping through the cracks, starting a rumor that the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] would be brought in because residue from a nearby refinery had leaked onto the track.

Michael Waltrip forced an already-delayed race start on Sunday to be delayed even further when he dropped a ton of oil on the parade lap.

The race was red flagged 21 laps in when Casey Mears' car, which had already crashed with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., wound up on its side after being flipped by Sam Hornish Jr.'s car.

Then Hornish's car caught on fire.

The crash was blamed on the seeping water, which forced NASCAR to spend an hour and four minutes redrying the track and cutting lines in it with circular saws to allow water out.

That led drivers to question whether the race should have started at all.

On Lap 83, 20 laps after the engines were refired, it began raining again. The second red flag of the day was thrown four laps later.

"It's been a long week for everybody," Clint Bowyer said. "There isn't anybody that doesn't want to get out of here."

If Earnhardt and Mears had their way, the race never would have started.

"The track ain't ready," Earnhardt said. "It was dirty. Bad move."

Denny Hamlin, who brought out the first caution when he hit the wall on Lap 16, agreed.

"There's 42 other drivers that agree we should not be racing on that track," he said. "I hit a slick spot. You can see it on TV. Right on the seams it's seeping a lot of water. My car just took off.

"That might not have been the cause of the [Mears] crash, but it was the cause of ours."

According to Mears, water seeping through a crack in Turn 2 definitely caused him to get loose. He said he hit water a couple of times before finally spinning out.

This isn't the first time seepage -- or weeping as drivers like to call it -- has been a problem at tracks. In 1998, NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. threatened to cancel an event at Texas Motor Speedway if a leaking problem in Turn 1 wasn't corrected.

Complaints were so constant that T-shirts were printed that said, "Shut-up and Drive."

Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman felt like saying that during the first stoppage.

"Were those the guys that crashed?" he said, asking who was complaining. "Well, it's the same for everybody. If you can't drive around or through a little bit of water & I've driven through worse. It's not a big deal for me.

"Yeah, it's not pretty. But we've got a show to put on for those fans. It's not about those two guys that crashed."

Newman said it was obvious there was water on the track when the race began. He said with pressure and heat, the weeping became worse.

Again, he didn't feel it was enough to complain about.

"The world doesn't revolve around two of them," he said of Earnhardt and Hamlin.

It wasn't just those two who complained. Kevin Harvick said a lot of drivers told NASCAR officials about the problem, primarily in the turns, before the race.

"The track really wasn't ready to start with," he said.

In hindsight, Carl Edwards agreed.

"You could see just a little [water before the race]," he said. "I thought it would dry and go away. It didn't. It got worse."

And then it rained again.

And the weirdness continued.

And it's likely to continue again on Monday when the race resumes at 1 p.m. ET.

"Look at the fans here," Bowyer said. "We're in the business of putting on a show for the fans. They're [NASCAR] trying everything they can to do that. Everybody wanted this thing to get going. It's just unfortunate what happened."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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