Originally created 05/26/05

Tensions equal big bucks for owner



CONCORD, N.C. - The 10-car crash during last Saturday night's all-star race at Lowe's Motor Speedway might have cost owners about $700,000 in damages, but it should be worth that much - or more - in increased ticket sales for Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600.

The crash was the result of the race's format and a Tony Stewart bump that sent Joe Nemechek spinning in front of oncoming traffic. By the time the sparks and smoke settled, Nemechek and Kevin Harvick were fighting in the infield.

An hour earlier, Brian Vickers won the Nextel All-Star Open qualifying race by knocking race leader Mike Bliss through the infield 75 yards short of the finish line, prompting Bliss to offer this warning: "That's all right, we've got 600 miles next week."

Speedway owner O. Bruton Smith loves the controversy the race creates as a preview to this week's main event. The all-star race doesn't count toward the series championship and the race winner earns more than $1.1 million. With that kind of money and no likely consequences - other than a wrecked car - drivers are willing to be a lot more aggressive, if not reckless.

And when they go too far, it stirs the fans in the grandstands.

"It doesn't hurt us," Smith said. "It creates a lot of publicity, a lot of talk all week long. ... It absolutely does help. We'll notice that, probably help us sell out the 600."

CHANGES AT DEI: The demotion of crew chief Pete Rondeau at Dale Earnhardt Inc. was rumored from the very start of the season, and this week it became a reality.

Rondeau was reassigned to another job at the racing company and technical director Steve Hmiel will work as Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief on an interim basis until a replacement can be hired.

Before the season started, DEI moved Earnhardt Jr. over to Michael Waltrip's team and Waltrip over to Earnhardt Jr.'s team with hopes of improving results for both.

Waltrip has benefited from the switch. He's 17th in the Nextel Cup Series standings after finishing 20th a year ago. Earnhardt Jr. has struggled. He's 11th in the rankings after finishing fifth.

BACK IN: Daytona Beach is back in the race for landing the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

When Florida failed to approve $30 million in funding for the project, most considered the city to be out of the running for the special project. But a proposal from local and state civic leaders, along with a letter of support from Gov. Jeb Bush, was delivered to NASCAR's Charlotte, N.C., office Tuesday.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net