Gordon, others view sun as a danger
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Anyone who drives a car has at one time or another been at least momentarily blinded by the glare of setting sun.
Try having that happen at 150 mph.
"I noticed yesterday in practice the sun was coming under the grandstands right in your eyes,'' said Rusty Wallace, who will join 42 of his NASCAR Nextel Cup competitors in Saturday's Subway Fresh 500 -- a 312-mile (500-kilometer) race that will begin in daylight and end under the new lights at Phoenix International Raceway.
The problem in Thursday's evening practice came between 6 and 6:30 p.m., which will be about one hour into Saturday's race. Unless the day turns out overcast, as Friday did, that could lead to problems.
"You're right up against the wall, and that was really touch and go,'' Wallace explained. "When you've got sunlight right in your face going into turn one, that's one thing. You know kind of what to expect. But when you're wide open in the throttle coming off (turn) four and the sun is glaring in your eyes and you have to make a turn there, I think that's the tough turn.''
It's just the latest sun problem faced by Cup drivers as NASCAR continues moving races into TV's prime-time hours on the East Coast.
"It will be a bit of a problem, but this race is not as bad as Darlington and Fontana,'' Jamie McMurray said. "At those tracks, the glare is real bad and lasts a lot longer.''
Series points leader Jimmie Johnson is among the drivers who have mixed feelings about the trend toward starting races in the late afternoon.
"The reason I like it is because of the changing track surface,'' Johnson said. "I think that the more difficult you make it for the drivers and the teams, the better. You have to have those challenges.
"I love going to Lowe's Motor Speedway, where you start in the day and go into night for the (Coca-Cola) 600. The track changes so much you have to be on top of things to do your job. But, as far as the sun, especially at Phoenix, that is the hardest time to see. And it is going to be really, really tough to start that race and to know where you are relative to other cars. That is going to be a pretty tough challenge.''
Johnson said the sun was so bright he had to have his spotter tell him what was in front of his No. 48 Chevrolet going into turn three last fall at California Speedway.
"I couldn't see the cars in front of me,'' he said. "That is the first time I have ever had to have someone tell me where cars were in front of me, and that is just not a safe situation.''
NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said the sanctioning organization is very aware of the situation, but that officials are counting on the ingenuity of the Cup teams to ease the problem.
"These guys know what they'll be facing and they have dark face shields for their helmets and some other things to keep from being blinded,'' Hunter said. "I'm sure our officials will be keeping a close eye on it to make sure it doesn't become a big problem.''
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon thinks it might already be a big problem.
"I love night racing, but I'm extremely concerned with the starting times of these races,'' Gordon said. "I don't think they're taking the competitors into account enough because they're not recognizing how the sun sets and how blinding it is at these racetracks.
"I think they need to be pushing these times back later or they need to find a way to block the sun for us because we can't put enough things on the windshield or our helmets to block it.''
But defending series champion Kurt Busch said he isn't too concerned about facing the glare of the setting sun.
"It's going to be tough looking at the sun for awhile, but that's the direction of our sport,'' Busch said. "If we start the race here at 8 o'clock, it'd be 11 back East, so it's something where the drivers will have to put up with it for a little bit.
"But then it'll be a great race, in prime time Saturday night, for the fans that'll be watching it here or the fans watching on East Coast television.''
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press