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Slick, or groovy? Drivers divided

©Associated Press

March 30, 2003

FORT WORTH, Texas -- The trail of rubber on the racing surface at Texas Motor Speedway shows the safest way around the 11/2-mile oval.

Venture off that sticky, black stripe and onto the slick, gray part of the asphalt, and the outside concrete wall can come into play in a hurry.

"You don't want to get off the groove at this place," said Bill Elliott, who starts sixth in the 43-car field for today's Samsung/Radio Shack 500. "You get into the gray and there's just no grip. And that wall is real hard."

Since competition began at the speedway in 1997, the track has been one of the fastest on the Winston Cup circuit.

But it also has been a one-groove track, making passing difficult and dangerous.

There were signs of change last April on what was then a newly resurfaced track.

"Everybody keeps calling it one groove," Johnny Benson said. "But I remember a year ago when we were here and were leading. We were passed on the outside, so I don't think it was one groove then."

But there's still a debate about how wide that groove is.

"It's early to tell, but I don't see any black on that second groove," Ricky Rudd said. "It doesn't look like there's been much racing going on up there, and there certainly isn't much rubber up there.

"I would say you'd have a better chance racing side-by-side this time, simply for the fact that the track has weathered some."

Rusty Wallace disagreed about there not being a second groove, saying the track will be more "raceable."

"It's definitely seasoned in more and I see a second groove coming in," he said. "I know there will be two lanes of racing, and maybe three, especially in Turns 3 and 4."

The top 23 in qualifying surpassed 190 mph and Bobby Labonte, who won this season in Atlanta, took the pole at 193.514, the fastest official lap this season.

Alongside Labonte's Chevrolet will be Elliott Sadler's Ford, followed by Ryan Newman's Dodge, Jimmie Johnson's Chevy and Jerry Nadeau's Pontiac.

Other than Labonte, none of them has won this season and none of the top 10 qualifiers has won in Texas.

"It's a tough racetrack," Labonte said. "Last year, we had some bad luck and the year before that we had some back luck, but we always run pretty good here."

Tony Stewart, Labonte's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, starts 22nd in a backup after NASCAR impounded his primary car Friday when it failed technical inspection.

NASCAR officials said the area from the rear window to the back of the rear decklid on the No. 20 Chevrolet Monte Carlo did not fit the required template.

Gibbs apologized to NASCAR and his sponsors but said, "All our other cars fit the template. It is kind of an unusual set of circumstances in our construction process and we are trying to go back and figure out what exactly happened."

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