Originally created 09/29/05

To impound or not?

Glenn Darrow was sitting in a lawn chair an hour before Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway, but his mind was 800 miles away.

Although his R&J Racing team faced 400 miles of racing at Dover later that afternoon, he was planning for this Sunday's race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

"Is it an impound race or not?" the crew chief asked. "It certainly affects the way we approach the race."

It's a question many crew chiefs ask every week. One week the cars are impounded by NASCAR following qualifying, the next there are two practice sessions - and a lot of adjustments - following time trials.

As teams become more accustomed to having their cars locked up after qualifying, the more they seem to like it. An idea that was met with considerable resistance earlier in the year now is being embraced by most.

"I think the impound rule is going to be a really good deal in the future, but right now they're testing it and working out all the bugs," car owner Richard Childress said. "By doing a few of them and letting everybody get a feel for them, we're going to have a lot more of them next year. I think it's going to be better. I know from our standpoint, it's going to be better. It makes more sense, especially if they can cut another half a day out of our schedule."

The confusing part of the impound rule is the fact some tracks do it and others don't. Of the 36 regular season races on the Nextel Cup Series, 21 have impound rules following qualifying. The other 15 still have the traditional practice sessions after time trials.

For Darrow, the impound rule is a handicap. His driver, Tony Raines, isn't ranked among the top 35 in the standings. The top 35 are guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup, so Raines has to race his way into the field every week.

At impound races, it means they have to set the car up for a short burst of speed, which puts it at a huge disadvantage during the race. At non-impound races, Darrow can set up the car for qualifying then make wholesale changes - at considerable cost - for the race.

"When we go to impound races, we have to make our changes during the race," he said. "For everyone else, it's a good deal. For us, it puts us at a big disadvantage. We go to impound races thinking about qualifying while everyone else is working on their race setups."

At non-impound races, like Sunday's UAW-Ford 500, teams are allowed to change everything except the engine after qualifying. Most will swap out transmissions, hubs, gears and suspension pieces following Friday's qualifying session. It not only forces teams to double their parts inventory, it adds a half day of work for the team.

At impound races, the only thing teams are allowed to do following qualifying is adjust the front and rear springs by one turn of the wrench or less, adjust the pressure in the shock absorbers, check the air in the tires, remove tape from the front grille and add up to four gallons of gas.

NASCAR said it hopes more racetracks will move to impound procedures.

Cars won't be impounded this week at Talladega, but will be a week later at Kansas Speedway.

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@bellsouth.net.


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