Originally created 03/25/01

NASCAR notes



BRISTOL, Tenn. - Matt Kenseth put himself in position to win Saturday's Cheez-It 250 NASCAR Busch Series race a day before it started.

"Qualifying and track position are the keys to Bristol," Kenseth said after he started on the outside pole and led the final 48 laps to become the fifth different winner in six Busch Series races this year. "You've got to start up front so you can avoid all the trouble that happens in the back."

Trouble like a six-car crash on the 78th lap that sent Mike Dillon to a local hospital for tests, defending series champion Jeff Green to the garage area and Greg Biffle's car on top of Bobby Hamilton 's car.

"That's what it's all about here - surviving," Kenseth said.

There were 12 caution periods for a variety of crashes and spins on the .533-mile short track with 36-degree, four-story-tall banking. The big crash sent a lot of cars to the junkyard and Dillon to the hospital where he was treated and released for a stiff neck.

Tim Fedewa finished second, five car lengths behind Kenseth.

Randy LaJoie was third, followed by Jimmie Johnson in fourth, Kenny Wallace in fifth, Ryan Newman in sixth, pole-sitter Kevin Harvick in seventh, Tony Raines in eighth, Tim Sauter in ninth and Michael Waltrip in 10th.

Harvick, who led for a race-best 86 laps, had the best car, but his chances were shot when NASCAR penalized him for jumping a restart following a caution period, then speeding down pit road to serve his stop-and-go penalty.

The junior circuit moves to the 1.5-mile quad-oval at the Texas Motor Speedway next Saturday.

UNHAPPY CAMPERS: Ford teams got a break in the rule book for next month's Talladega 500 at the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway when NACSAR trimmed two inches from the width of the rear spoiler.

Now Pontiac and Dodge are mad.

The rear spoiler, which creates downforce for the rear wheels, will be reduced to 57 inches on the rear deck of the Ford Taurus. Ford had argued the spoiler was so wide it created too much drag.

NASCAR also said the deflector strip across the roof on the Dodge Intrepid will be raised on the sides to make it square with the ground. At Daytona last month, the strip was allowed to conform with the contour of the car.

The sanctioning body uses special aerodynamic rules at its two-fastest race tracks - Talladega and Daytona - to keep the cars from becoming airborne during an accident.

"We are disappointed," said James Ince, crew chief for Johnny Benson's Pontiac. "Pontiac hasn't won a race this year and NASCAR hasn't helped us out. The Fords have whined and it's paying off."

Said Dodge driver Sterling Marlin: "After Daytona, I thought they had to use a mop because Ford cried so much. I guess NASCAR bought it."

HAPPY HOUR (PLUS 30 MINUTES): Rusty Wallace, who swept both NASCAR Winston Cup Series races at Bristol last year, was the fastest driver in the final 90-minute practice session - known as "Happy Hour" - late Saturday.

His Ford Taurus was clocked at 120.953 mph.

Pole-sitter Mark Martin was second-fastest at 120.528, while rookie Casey Atwood and Joe Nemechek were third at 120.407 and Marlin was fifth at 120.241.

Martin won the pole position Friday with a fast lap of 126.303 mph. Teams change engines and make dramatic suspension changes between time trials and the main event. Qualifying engines and setups are designed for a quick burst of speed, not for 100-lap runs that will be common this afternoon.

CHANGES AT DEI: A month after three crewmen helped Michael Waltrip win the season-opening Daytona 500 for Dale Earnhardt Inc., they left the team.

Car chief Mike Kelly quit to work for Casey Atwood's Dodge Intrepid team for car owner Ray Evernham, tire specialist Tim Sheets moved over to Morgan-McClure's No. 4 Chevrolet and mechanic Steve Dune is looking for work.

Also, the two rear tire changers for Benson - the same crewmen who missed a lug nut last week at Darlington, S.C., that dropped Benson from the lead to a seventh-place finish - have been re-assigned to MB2 teammate Ken Schrader.

Two tire changers that worked for Benson a year ago have been re-hired.

PIT STOPS: Martin said one of the reasons rookie Kevin Harvick has been so impressive in relief of the late Dale Earnhardt is the car itself. "Two things," he said. "First, he's been spectacular. But that old No. 3 car (that's been changed to No. 29 since Earnhardt's death) is better than I thought it was. I used to think it was all Dale."..Lost in the stunning death of Earnhardt was the recent death of Bob Wollek, one of the greatest endurance sports car drivers of all time. Wollek, who won the pole position last February for the 24 Hours of Daytona, was killed last week while riding his bicycle near the Sebring (Fla.) Raceway.