Originally created 05/11/02

Polesitter approves of New Hampshire track changes

LOUDON, N.H. -- Rookie Shane Hmiel won the pole Friday for the Busch 200 and gave a passing grade to the new widened turns at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Others flunked it.

Hmiel, 20th in the Busch series standings, sped his Chevrolet around the one-mile oval at 129.406 mph. He will start on the pole Saturday for the second time in his career.

Bobby Hamilton was second in a Ford at 128.989. Todd Bodine was next in a Chevy at 128.828. Defending champion Jason Keller, the series leader who won a week ago in Richmond, Va., was fourth in Ford at 128.611

Randy LaJoie, Greg Biffle, Stacy Compton, Kenny Wallace, Scott Riggs and Ashton Lewis completed the top 10.

Hmiel gave a strong endorsement to the 12 feet and second groove added inside on the turns.

"I used all new asphalt, up on it, down on it, whatever," Hmiel said. "Maybe it helped me that I've never been here before except on a video game.

"I'll try awfully hard to be down there" during the race, he said.

Bodine stuck with the old groove for qualifying, but could see change coming.

"If Shane was running on the bottom, I better listen to him," Bodine said. "By the end of our race, it's going to be two wide with some passing. It's going to add a lot to the race and for the fans."

Hamilton also stayed in the old groove for qualifying, but said, "At least they made the effort here. It's a start. Some places we go to they don't care what we say."

The idea is to encourage more side-by-side racing and more passing, which drivers have said has been missing.

"We won't know until tomorrow," track owner Bob Bahre said. "We think it will work. We thought it was worth a try.

"We think the fans will see a better race."

Bahre talked to NASCAR officials, Goodyear engineers, site engineers, and a paver about the idea, along with a few drivers, mainly Winston Cup racer Brett Bodine, Todd's brother.

"He brought it up about a year ago. He had the most to say about it," Bahre said.

Todd Bodine saw the new groove as more than a passing fancy.

"By the time the Winston Cup guys get here, it's going to be really good," he said of the Cup races at the track in July and September.

But Keller, disappointed in his qualifying effort, doubted that the new groove would get much use Saturday.

"You're not going to get down there and you're going to have to run around like we've always done, and that's a bad thing," he said.

Jeff Burton, who used the open Winston Cup weekend for Mother's Day to race in the Busch 200, was happy before the change with the track on which he has won a record-tying four times. But he understood it might be better for the fans.

"The potential is there for more passing," said Burton, who qualified 17th. "You have some options now."

But he didn't expect more use of the bottom groove.

"I don't think there's enough banking down there," he said, but added it would be possible to run higher now. "I think it's going to do one of two things. I think it will make racing better or it's going to cause a lot of wrecks, and I'm not sure which."

NASCAR drivers Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin were killed in separate but similar accidents in turn three during practice for races two years ago.


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