Drivers give tires thumbs-up

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In a rare show of accord, the NASCAR drivers testing tires at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway this week agreed that Goodyear was making progress on the most thankless task in auto racing.

Kevin Harvick , Bobby Labonte , Elliott Sadler and Denny Hamlin -- felt the tires Goodyear brought to the track had worked well so far, pointing to strong, exciting racing when Sprint Cup returns to Darlington on May 9 with the rechristened Southern 500.

If Goodyear brings good, effective rubber to a track, people think the manufacturer is simply doing its job. Bring a tire that doesn't hold up or slips around -- and gentlemen, start your griping.

That's what happened a year ago when a tire test at Darlington followed the disastrous race at Atlanta where Tony Stewart let loose at Goodyear for what he and others felt was a shoddy product.

"I feel like they're in the worst position in the sport," Harvick, a Chevrolet driver, said Wednesday.

Harvick, Labonte, Sadler and Hamlin -- one driver from each auto manufacturer -- participated in Goodyear's latest lab session to bring the grippiest tire to the historic track.

"It's tough to build tires for our series," said Labonte, who drives a Ford and has a victory at Darlington. "I say, overall, they're definitely the first one somebody's going to point the finger at when something happens."

Drivers slipped around again last week at Atlanta, with winner Kurt Busch saying it felt a bit like being at the 60-year-old Darlington with how close drivers came to the wall.

While there were complaints, none came close to Stewart's assessment from a year ago that the Goodyear tire at Atlanta was the "most pathetic racing tire I've ever been on in my professional career."

This time, testers talked of Goodyear's strong product at Las Vegas this month and the company's willingness to listen to drivers' ideas.

"I think they're listening more to us now than what they have in the past," Hamlin said. "They're trying to get us comfortable because they know the more comfortable we are, the more side-by-side racing they're going to see."

TRADING PLACES: Cale Yarborough is in and Darrell Waltrip is out of the lineup for the "Saturday Night Special" race on March 21 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The first-time event will feature a field of retired NASCAR stars competing on Bristol's high-banked, half-mile oval in late model stock cars for charity.

Yarborough, a three-time series champion and nine-time Bristol winner, replaces three-time Cup champion and 12-time Bristol winner Waltrip, who had to pull out of the event because of a scheduling conflict.

"It seems crazy, but I am busier now than I was when I was a driver," Waltrip said. "I have some commitments to Fox Sports that have come up since we began talking with the folks at Bristol about this race."

Other drivers expected to compete are Harry Gant , David Green , Jack Ingram , Junior Johnson , Terry Labonte , Sterling Marlin , L.D. Ottinger , Phil Parsons , David Pearson , Jimmy Spencer and Rusty Wallace .

THINKING GREEN: Kurt Busch not only had the fastest car in Sunday's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he had the most environmentally-safe one.

His Dodge was painted with a new waterborne coating system to reduce volatile organic compounds.

Penske Racing unveiled the new paint job before the race. It's a product of PPG Automotive Refinish and Envirobase High Performance. PPG sent a specialist, Jim Skal , from its offices in Strongsville, Ohio, to the race shops in Mooresville, N.C., to help with the conversion.

"Going green with a company that has a history of product leadership and innovation is the difference when making such a change," Roger Penske said. "We are proud to have such a great working relationship with the entire PPG organization throughout our racing disciplines and with our automotive and truck leasing businesses."

Eventually, Penske cars for the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series, as well as the Indy Racing League and Grand American Road Racing Series, will feature the waterborne coating system.

Pit stops: Racing pioneer Raymond Parks will donate his trophies and other memorabilia to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The hall is scheduled to open in 2010. ... David Ragan will make his Modified debut Sunday at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C.


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