JOLIET, Ill. - By the time the racing weekend is over at the new Chicagoland Speedway, a veteran stock car fan is likely to turn the sign that outlaws coolers in the grandstands into firewood.
With the exception of alarming speeds and ear-shattering noise, nothing about the raceway 38 miles south of downtown Chicago seems in place. Not only is the 1.5-mile speedway the only one the 36-race circuit that bans fans from bringing their own food and drink, it's the only facility cut amid miles of corn fields. If you build it, they will come.
All 80,000 seats are sold for Sunday's Tropicana 400.
Drivers said the $130 million raceway needs time to mature. Time and racing miles will help the asphalt cure and until then, a great portion of the main event will be a one-groove follow-the-leader affair.
"There's no variation to the groove," said Todd Bodine, moments after he won the pole position at 183.717 mph. "It's a good race track, but I can't wait for the second groove to come in."
Bodine's teammate at Carter-Haas Racing, Jimmy Spencer, was second in time trials at 183.411. The front row, along with third-fastest Ricky Rudd (183.156 mph), all used engines prepared at Robert Yates Racing.
"You're in the throttle 90 percent of the time at this track," Bodine said. "It helps to have that kind of horsepower under the hood."
The top-three cars were Fords.
Bill Elliott's Dodge was fourth at 182.772 mph, followed by Joe Nemechek's Chevrolet in fifth at 182.340, Kevin Harvick's Chevrolet in sixth at 182.162, Mike Skinner's Chevrolet in seventh at 182.057, Jerry Nadeau's Chevrolet in eighth at 182.008, Sterling Marlin's Dodge in ninth at 181.812 and Brett Bodine's Ford in 10th at 181.684.
Series points leader Jeff Gordon qualified 28th at 180.036 mph.
Drivers said the track, which has an arching backstretch, apparently combines memories of several race tracks on the circuit.
Spencer said it reminds him of the Michigan International Speedway and the Texas Motor Speedway, but the turns are more like the ones at the Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte.
Bodine said the frontstretch is a lot like the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the turns are more like Texas.
"Some day, it's going to be like Vegas - two, three and four wide, pick your own groove," he said. "I don't think that will happen this year. It's going to take a year or so, or a couple of races, before we get two grooves."
Rudd said he sees similarities from the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas and the California Speedway.
While the drivers continue to get accustomed to the D-shaped layout, it's clear the Chicago area also needs time to adjust to the sport.
There are no signs directing traffic through Joilet to the speedway. Parking and traffic are certain to be a problem today and Sunday, especially since speedway officials decided to open the grandstands at 8 a.m. and the garage area at 9 a.m. That means race teams will have to arrive at 7 a.m. and sit in the parking lot for an hour to beat the traffic.
Local media outlets have approached the racing weekend with a strange sense of curiosity. They even conducted a seminar for 30 members of the local media a month ago on the proper way to cover the sport. Dale Jarrett talked to the reporters and gave them hints on when, where and how to ask insightful questions.
That was little comfort early in the day when one of the Chicago's sports radio stations played the theme song from the "Beverly Hillbillies" every time the race was mentioned.
But the difference that's likely to make the most impact is the rule against coolers.
The speedway banned outside food and drink for safety reasons. Although there have been no serious injuries reported in the sport's history by coolers, fans will have to settle for speedway concessions.
A new track with new rules in a new town apparently makes for a lot of adjustments on both sides of the catchfence.
BUSCH SERIES: Busch Series rookie Ryan Newman drove to his third pole in eight tries this season, taking the top spot Friday in qualifying for the Sam's Club-Hills Bros. Coffee 300 at the new Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet.
Newman, driving a Ford for Penske Racing South, turned a lap of 181.886 mph on the 1 1/2 -mile, D-shaped tri-oval to beat the Taurus of runner-up Jimmy Spencer, whose lap of 181.080 was clocked at just 0.132-seconds slower.
"That didn't seem very fast," Newman said. "When I heard the time, I didn't know if it was going to hold up or not. But then I heard some of the other times coming up and it didn't seem so bad."
Qualifying behind Newman and Spencer for Saturday's 300-mile race were the Chevrolet of Matt Kenseth at 180.632, series points leader Kevin Harvick at 180.421 and Bobby Hamilton Jr. at 180.108.
TRUCK SERIES: Jack Sprague turned a lap at 167.115 mph Friday to claim the pole for the Saturday's Kroger 225 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky.
The pole was the fourth of the season and 17th overall for Sprague, who has one victory this season and is third in the series points standings behind Scott Riggs and Joe Ruttman.
"I'm going to stay in this truck as long as this truck is running," said Sprague, who drives the No. 24 NetZero Platinum Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. "I have a lot of fun doing what I'm doing."
Teammate Ricky Hendrick, who became the youngest driver to win a series race last week at Kansas Speedway, took the outside spot on the front row with a lap of 166.072 mph.
Rounding out the top five in the 36-truck field were Riggs (165.720); Ted Musgrave (165.700), who has a series-leading four victories and is fourth in the points standings; and Ruttman (165.532), who is seeking his third win of the season.
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