Once again, a NASCAR Nextel Cup race proved to be a cautionary tale. Kasey Kahne didn't like the ending much.
As in the previous weekend's race at Bristol, the end of Sunday's event at Texas Motor Speedway was bogged down with several long cautions as work crews took extra time assuring that the 1.5-mile track had been blown free of debris. At Bristol, Kurt Busch took advantage of four late cautions - one of which turned into a red flag - to hold off a faster No.2 Dodge driven by Rusty Wallace. On Sunday, 13 laps were consumed on two cautions after Lap 285 of 334, allowing winner Elliott Sadler to hold off Kahne's No.9 Dodge, which led a race-best 148 laps.
"I think NASCAR needs to look into those yellows," Kahne said. "That track was almost completely cleaned up. We probably ran 15-20 laps that didn't need to be run (under yellow)."
NASCAR instituted a new policy at Atlanta a month ago forcing cars to run one full lap under caution before pit road opened, ostensibly to slow them more for safety, and to allow officials to sort out track position. Though no one faults NASCAR for using caution, drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon have complained the past two weeks that officials were altering races by narrowing the window for fast cars to make late comebacks.
Kahne has been second three times this season, but after finishing .010 of a second behind Matt Kenseth at Rockingham, and .028 back of Sadler, Sunday was more irritation than consolation.
"I didn't see any debris out there half the time," he said. "They're putting (absorbent) down the bottom of the backstretch where nobody runs. It's just ridiculous how long they took. They do the one-lap safety rule and that's great. The extra eight, 10, 20 laps they run is ridiculous."
TOP DOG: Busch's quietly consistent sixth-place performance on Sunday moved him past Roush Racing teammate Kenseth and atop the Nextel Cup driver standings. Busch, who has five top 10s and a victory in eight races, leads Kenseth by 19 points.
"It's a new aspect," Busch said. "I was once a Winston Cup points leader for a race and now I'm a Nextel Cup points leader, but it's not at the right time. We've got to keep working and make sure that we're there when it counts."
The top 10 in driver standings and all within 400 points of the leader after 26 races will compete for the championship in the final 10 races. If the regular season ended on Sunday, 26 drivers would be eligible for the Chase for the Championship.
PIT STOPS: Mike Vazquez, a former co-owner of Hispanic Racing Team, said it is his understanding that NASCAR is attempting to schedule a race from one of its three series in Mexico City for 2005. Carlos Contreras, who ran a partial Busch schedule with Hispanic Racing in 2003, is competing in Mexico, where growing attention for stock car racing has piqued NASCAR's interest. ... Ford BP Rallye Sport unveiled a rally car for use April 18 in New Zealand. With a tweaked engine, aerodynamics and body shell, the car is set to replace a model that won twice in 2003. ... Several Champ Car teams will test this week at California Speedway in Fontana in preparation for the season-opening Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 18. Defending champion Paul Tracy was pleased with a weekend test session of his No.1 Forsythe entry at Homestead: "The car felt really good and was balanced pretty well. It's hard to say exactly how the car will feel until we get to Long Beach and see what the track conditions are like but we feel pretty good." ... Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials announced that the track's 2.5-mile oval, warmup lanes and pit lane will be repaved after the Aug.8 Brickyard 400 Nextel Cup race. ... Indy Racing League points leader Tony Kanaan completed the Ralph's California Half-Ironman Triathlon in Oceanside, Calif., in 5 hours, 56 minutes, 13 seconds Saturday.