Qualifying changes expected for '05
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- A new post-qualifying procedure designed to save money and significantly alter racing weekends will begin next season in NASCAR.
Car owner Jack Roush said he and his crew chiefs were briefed on the measures Saturday at Darlington Raceway. NASCAR is expected to announce the plans this week.
Under the plan, qualifying would be moved from Friday to Saturday, then the cars would be impounded. They would then line up Sundays with no tire, gear or shock absorber changes.
NASCAR chairman Brian France said the plans are still under consideration. If implemented, France said "time is the cost they'll be helping teams save.''
Roush said it was a "watershed'' change for Nextel Cup.
"I think it will save the teams money. I think it will result in at least as good if not more exciting racing and we'll look back at it after we've done it for a while like, 'Wow, why had we done it any other way,' " he said. "It's all good news.''
Another part of the plan calls for allowing teams two days of preseason testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and California Speedway while being charged for only one test.
Las Vegas will be open from Jan. 31-Feb. 2. California Speedway will be available Feb. 1-3.
"This is good,'' driver Kyle Petty said. "Instead of going to Vegas and then going to California, you get those two off the bat.''
The traditional pair of 45-minute Saturday practice sessions, called "Happy Hour,'' will be eliminated. Nextel Cup teams will run two hours of practice laps on Fridays.
After impoundment, any work on cars would have to be approved by NASCAR and only for special circumstances. One benefit is that overworked Nextel Cup teams would get some rest on Saturday afternoons. Another would come in the wallets of race teams, saving money on practice tires and special parts.
Not addressed in the plan is an idea to guarantee starting spots to the 35-or-so Nextel Cup teams that compete each week. The concept, discussed all weekend in Darlington Raceway's garage area, would leave seven or eight spots open in the 43-car field for part-time teams.
Petty says such a move would give sponsors peace of mind knowing their racers would be in the lineup and plan for corporate outings and appearances.
"They have to do something like that along with the impound because if not guys would show up and do nothing but practice for qualifying,'' Petty said. "The top 35 thing protects people that pull to all the races this year.''
Lady's fate uncertain
Darlington Raceway leaders did not get to use the words they wanted so much to say -- Southern 500 sellout.
Track president Chris Browning welcomed a near-capacity crowd to the famed "Lady in Black'' for the 55th and, for now, final running. Browning had hoped a second-straight full house -- the last Labor Day weekend event in 2003 was Darlington's first sellout in six years -- would mean he could push for additional improvements to the aging facility.
Track VP Mac Josey thought Darlington was only a few hundred short of capacity.
Darlington's Nextel Cup future was cut in half for 2005. Its only date will come on Mother's Day weekend next year when it holds the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 under its new multimillion dollar lighting system.
Jimmie Johnson swept Darlington's two races this year, finishing under the lights Sunday to win the Southern 500.
NASCAR chairman Brian France knows it's painful for longtime fans to lose a tradition like the Southern 500. But he says NASCAR officials think next year's Saturday night Nextel Cup race could be a winner. "They are hopeful, as are we, that it's going to be a positive event in '05 for us to see how it goes,'' France said.
Charlotte track president H.A. "Humpy'' Wheeler, driver Tim Richmond and crew chief Harry Hyde were inducted Saturday night into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame.
Wheeler, known as the P.T. Barnum of racing for his epic promotions at Lowe's Motor Speedway, accepted the honor, while Richmond and Hyde, the inspiration for the two main characters in the move "Days of Thunder,'' were inducted posthumously.
NASCAR chairman Brian France didn't think it was so funny.
Moments after the Checker Auto Parts 500 ended Nov. 7, Harvick and Kahne ran into each other on pit road and stopped. Harvick jumped from his car and leaned into Kahne's cockpit, gesturing and talking before being shooed back to his own car.
NASCAR fined Kahne and Harvick $10,000 each and placed them on probation for the rest of the season.
"It was right at pit road, clogging pit road. That could have been a mess,'' France said. "It's OK to give somebody an opinion and do it in a way that's aggressive. But when you start to block people in, charge into their space, that can escalate and we wanted to make sure to bring that down.''
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press