Originally created 06/13/05

Waltrip wasn't sure how well he finished



LONG POND, Pa. - After a record-setting qualifying lap, Michael Waltrip ran well Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

But at end of the Pocono 500, he wasn't sure how well. Neither was NASCAR.

"I think I passed him, and then the caution came out," Waltrip said of Nextel Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson. "I know I passed him but it might not have been before the caution."

So, when the computer spit out the numbers, Waltrip was credited with finishing sixth, behind Mark Martin and just ahead of Johnson. Later, the scoring was amended with Waltrip fifth, Johnson sixth and Martin seventh.

Such things were never so complicated. Until last year, the cars raced back to the finish line then slowed under caution. At the line was all the electronic equipment that virtually guaranteed accuracy.

But a scary situation in New Hampshire - where Dale Jarrett sat stalled in the middle the track in 2003 - changed the sanctioning body's thinking. Now, the field is slowed and frozen the moment the caution comes out and various sources are used to determine who is where.

Last year, Jeff Gordon beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. when a similar situation arose at Tallageda. The one Sunday at Pocono happened when Bobby Labonte and Ken Schrader crashed on the 199th of 200 laps.

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JUNIOR BIG TIRE VICTIM: The disastrous season of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has led just five laps in 2005, got even worse Sunday, when he finished 33rd in the Pocono 500 to fall to 16th in Nextel Cup points.

He's 504 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and very much in jeopardy of missing the Chase for the Championship, NASCAR's 10-race miniseason in which the top 10 drivers compete for the title.

Earnhardt was among the drivers victimized throughout the race by blown or cut tires.

His team has been in a state of turmoil - which included a preseason swap of crews, cars and crew chiefs with Michael Waltrip. Then Earnhardt changed crew chiefs again. Everything has changed but the man behind the wheel.

"Hopefully, there ain't no driver changes," he said. "That's all I'm worried about."

There probably is little chance that will happen, because he works for Dale Earnhardt Inc., the company founded by his late father and operated by his stepmother.

NASCAR said it will monitor the situation with the Goodyear tires, and that's good enough for Earnhardt.

"I don't have a very good opinion of the tires right now, so it's probably best to keep my mouth shut," he said.

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PIT STOPS: Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch made post-qualifying changes to their cars and were forced to drop to the rear of the field on the pace lap. Teammates Gordon and Kyle Busch scraped the wall in qualifying Saturday. Series champion Kurt Busch arrived Sunday morning to find a puddle of break fluid under his car and the team changed its master cylinder.... Mike Bliss, who had hernia surgery last week, was replaced by Brendan Gaughan at the first caution.



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