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Restrictor-plates edict has teams scrambling to adjust

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2000


Time ran out.

Two months after the second fatal accident at New Hampshire International Speedway and under pressure to do something, NASCAR decided Saturday its most convenient option to make the track safer wasn't soft walls but restrictor plates.

The announcement that the horsepower-limiting plates wouldbe used in the Dura Lube 300 this weekend sent race teams into a frenzy trying to prepare cars and engines for Winston Cup's somber return to the track where Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty were killed in separate crashes, eight weeks apart, in Turn3.

"I'm glad I am not in the engine room," John Andretti said. "Why it happened this close to the event you need to ask someone else, but it is making things tough on everyone."

NASCAR, which has said it will continue searching for alternative safety measures, never had required the plates anywhere but at its two biggest tracks -- the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway.

The plate will cut horsepower from 750 to about 490 or 500 at New Hampshire, where the straightaways are long and the turns abrupt. That should translate into a reduction of 10 mph per lap.

"Are (restrictor) plates the answer? In my opinion, no, not for the long term," Jeremy Mayfield said. "But NASCAR was under a lot of pressure to do something quickly, something that would at least answer New Hampshire.

"They acted. Everybody was on them to do something and they did something. You can't sit there saying, "Do something, do something,' and then, after they do something, step back and say, "Hey, we didn't mean that."

SOGGY FORECAST: If the weather forecast for Loudon holds, Winston Cup teams might not get much time on the track this weekend.

Weather.com forecasts showers Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Highs are expected to be in the mid-60s with lows in the low 40s.

WHO MIGHT HAVE BEEN A MILLIONAIRE: Shari Robertson wanted to take her 6-year-old son to Disney World.

The Savannah, Ga., resident was one of five people paired with Winston Cup drivers as part of a $1-million giveaway promotion at the Chevrolet 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

The contest matches fans with five drivers eligible for a $1-million bonus. If the driver wins the race, he and the lucky fan each get the money.

Robertson was paired with Dale Earnhardt, who finished second to Jeff Gordon.

On Tuesday, NASCAR ruled Gordon's team used an unapproved part and penalized the driver 100 points and fined crew chief Robbie Loomis $25,000.

"I certainly feel like, under the circumstances, that I have definitely been cheated," Robertson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Jeff Gordon is my son's favorite driver. How do you explain to a 6-year-old that his hero's team put an illegal part on the car?"

THREE'S COMPANY: Michael Waltrip, who signed a one-year contract with his current Winston Cup team earlier this season, was introduced Wednesday as the newest driver for Dale Earnhardt Inc. next season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Park currently drive for DEI.

Waltrip, brother of three-time Winston Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, is winless in 455 career starts.

"The pressure is on him to win," Earnhardt said. "But why he hasn't won a race yet is circumstantial. He has a lot of credits to his name and the mix is there, so he is definitely going to be a winner."

ON TOP: When Gil de Ferran took over the CART series points lead with a second-place finish last weekend at Laguna Seca Raceway, he became the first Team Penske driver to lead the standings since Paul Tracy in 1997.

De Ferran, six points ahead of Michael Andretti, also holds the points lead later in the season than any Penske driver since Al Unser Jr. won the championship in 1994.

PIT NOTES: Geoffrey Bodine, fired this week, said he has talked to some owners about a job. He also contacted NBC about working as an analyst for its Winston Cup coverage next season. ... Funny Car driver Whit Bazemore will not return to drive for owner Chuck Etchells. Bazemore is sixth in the standings. ... Craftsman Truck driver Kurt Busch tested a Winston Cup car for Roush Racing on Wednesday at Dover Downs International Speedway. Busch, scheduled to test again today, is expected to replace Chad Little in the No. 97 Ford next season.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

Winston Cup

WHAT: Dura Lube 300.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Friday, first-round qualifying, 4 p.m. (9 a.m. Saturday, TNN, taped); Saturday, second-round qualifying, 11 a.m.; Sunday, race (12:30 p.m., TNN); Loudon, N.H.

1999 WINNER: Joe Nemechek.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Bobby Labonte, 3,761; 2. Dale Earnhardt, 3,603; 3. Dale Jarrett, 3,597; 4. Jeff Burton, 3,578; 5. Tony Stewart, 3,353; 6. Rusty Wallace, 3,241; 7. Ricky Rudd, 3,307; 8. Mark Martin, 3,287; 9. Ward Burton, 3,281; 10. Jeff Gordon, 3,070.

CART

WHAT: Motorola 300.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Friday, first-round qualifying, 4 p.m. (1:30 a.m. Saturday, ESPN2, taped); Saturday, second-round qualifying, 2 p.m.; Sunday, race (3 p.m., ESPN2); Madison, Ill.

1999 WINNER: Michael Andretti.

FAST FACTS: Honda-powered cars have won eight of the past 11. Andretti was second to Alex Zanardi in 1998. This is the fourth year of the race, which had been held Memorial Day weekend.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Gil de Ferran, 132; 2. Andretti, 126; 3. Paul Tracy, 122; 4. Adrian Fernandez, 118; 5. Kenny Brack, 116; 6. Roberto Moreno, 115; 7. Helio Castroneves, 103; 8. Dario Franchitti, 92; 9. Jimmy Vasser, 91; 10. Cristiano da Matta, 88.

NHRA

WHAT: Keystone Nationals.

WHEN/WHERE: Friday, qualifying, 2:45 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 11:15 a.m.; Sunday, final eliminations, 11 a.m.; Mohnton, Pa.

1999 WINNERS: Joe Amato (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock).

FAST FACTS: John Force is a five-time Keystone Nationals winner in the Funny Car division. Records were set in five of six pro categories last year.

POINTS STANDINGS: Top Fuel -- 1. Tony Schumacher, 1,364; 2. Gary Scelzi, 1,333; 3. Larry Dixon, 1,262; 4. Kenny Bernstein, 1,067; 5. Doug Kalitta, 1,065; 6. Joe Amato, 1,058; 7. Cory McClenathan, 847; 8. Bob Vandergriff, 716; 9. Doug Herbert, 691; 10. Don Lampus, 665. Funny Car -- 1. Force, 1,435; 2. Jerry Toliver, 1,213; 3. Ron Capps, 1,076; 4. Tony Pedregon, 1,040; 5. Jim Epler, 1,015; 6. Whit Bazemore, 810; 7. Del Worsham, 808; 8. Scotty Cannon, 797; 9. Dean Skuza, 797; 10. Bruce Sarver, 674. Pro Stock -- 1. Coughlin, 1,519; 2. Ron Krisher, 1,138; 3. Kurt Johnson, 1,117; 4.Warren Johnson, 1,016; 5. Troy Coughlin, 894; 6. Mark Pawuk, 893; 7. Richie Stevens, 835; 8. Jim Yates, 784; 9. Tom Martino, 694; 10. Bruce Allen, 653. Pro Stock Truck -- 1. Bob Panella Jr, 1,011; 2. Randy Daniels, 882; 3. John Coughlin, 631; 4. Greg Stanfield, 578; 5. Steve Johns, 535; 6. Brian Self, 483; 7. Rick Jones, 444; 8. Mike Coughlin, 411; 9. John Lingenfelter, 411; 10. Jeff Gracia, 380.

Busch Grand National

UP NEXT: MBNA.com 200, Sept. 23, Dover, Del.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Jeff Green, 4,123; 2. Jason Keller 3,474; 3. Kevin Harvick, 3,429; 4. Todd Bodine, 3,416; 5. Elton Sawyer, 3,182; 6. Ron Hornaday, 3,151; 7. Randy LaJoie, 2,993; 8. David Green, 2,840; 9. Casey Atwood, 2,674; 10. Jimmie Johnson, 2,612.

Craftsman Trucks

UP NEXT: MBNA Palladian Travel 200, Sept. 22, Dover, Del.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Greg Biffle, 3,398; 2. Mike Wallace, 3,146; 3. Kurt Busch, 3,066; 4. Andy Houston, 3,046; 5. Jack Sprague, 2,967; 6. Joe Rutman, 2,866; 7. Steve Grissom, 2,801; 8. Randy Tolsma, 2,793; 9. Dennis Setzer, 2,791; 10. Bryan Reffner 2,742.

Indy Racing

UP NEXT: excite.com 500, Oct. 15, Fort Worth, Texas.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Buddy Lazier, 258; 2. Scott Goodyear, 220; 3. Eddie Cheever, 217; 4. Mark Dismore, 186; 5. Eliseo Salazar, 180; 6. Scott Sharp, 179; 7. Robbie Buhl, 178; 8. Donnie Beechler, 174; 9. Al Unser Jr., 173; 10. Robby McGehee, 168.

Formula One

UP NEXT: U.S. Grand Prix, Sept. 24, Indianapolis.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Mika Hakkinen, 80; 2. Michael Schumacher, 78; 3. David Coulthard, 61; 4. Rubens Barrichello, 49; 5. Ralf Schumacher, 24; 6. Giancarlo Fisichella, 18; 7. Jacques Villeneuve, 11; 8. Jenson Button, 10; 9. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, 7; 10. Jarno Trulli, 6.

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