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Drivers try to gain an edge with Miami tests

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


Before taking their first weekend off in three months, 27 Winston Cup drivers stopped by Homestead-Miami Speedway this week to test for the upcoming Pennzoil 400.

The drivers conclude three days of testing today.

"It's a new track on the schedule and not a lot of guys have made a lot of laps here," said Jeff Gordon, who tested Tuesday and Wednesday. "And maybe some guys that saved tests for the end of the season, now is a good time to take advantage. That's kind of what we did. It's our last test of the year."

Winston Cup points leader Bobby Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Jeremy Mayfield, Terry Labonte, Bill Elliott, Johnny Benson, Mike Skinner, Steve Park, Ricky Rudd, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Tony Stewart were among those preparing for the Nov. 12 race.

Stewart won the first Pennzoil 400 last year after bumping his teammate, Bobby Labonte, out of the lead. Jarrett clinched his first Winston Cup championship with a fifth-place finish.

"The people that didn't come here and test, I think they're going to be off," said Wallace, who tested Tuesday and Wednesday. "Things are different this year with these cars. I think everybody that's testing here is going to have an advantage, I do. I knew that pretty well going in and that's the reason it's so important for me to get down here and test."

RULES REACTION: Drivers had mixed reactions upon hearing that Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark proposed NASCAR use its Talladega rules -- minus the restrictor plates -- at the season-ending NAPA 500 on Nov. 19.

"The same package could never work at Atlanta," Gordon said. "But a modified version of it might be good."

NASCAR implemented several rules changes for the Winston 500 on Oct. 15 in an effort to slow cars and improve racing. The result was a season-high 49 lead changes and a come-from-behind win by Dale Earnhardt.

Speeds at Atlanta Motor Speedway are among the highest in Winston Cup even though the track is more than 1 mile shorter than Talladega Superspeedway.

Jarrett won the pole position for the Cracker Barrel 500 in March with a speed of 192.574 mph, and Earnhardt won the race in a photo finish over Bobby Labonte.

"What he's (Clark) trying to do is just get the cars bumper to bumper at Atlanta ... so the fans go haywire and it's a good show," Wallace said. "He's probably not even thinking about the safety of the drivers. I think it was a (poor) statement he made. I don't agree with that at all."

UP FOR GRABS: Five drivers have a chance to win the CART championship heading into the season-ending Marlboro 500 on Sunday at California Speedway.

Gil de Ferran, who leads Adrian Fernandez by five points, would give Penske Racing its eighth CART championship and first since Al Unser Jr. won the title in 1994 if he can maintain the lead.

"It would have been nice if we won the championship three or four races ago, but since this thing has been so competitive, especially this season, I didn't really expect that that would have been the case," said de Ferran, who has five top-five finishes in the last eight races. "I just wanted to be in a good position to try to fight for the championship going into Fontana. I guess that's where we are. We're in a good position to fight for the championship.

Paul Tracy and rookie Kenny Brack trail de Ferran by 19 points, and Roberto Moreno is 22 back. A maximum of 22 points is available this weekend.

PIT NOTES: Jeff Green needs only to start the Sam's Town 250 on Sunday at Memphis Motorsports Park to clinch the Busch Grand National championship. ... Pro Stock Motorcycle driver Angelle Seeling will become the second female driver to win an NHRA title, joining three-time Top Fuel champion Shirley Muldowney, if she gains a point in the Matco Tools Supernationals this weekend at Houston Raceway Park. ... International Speedway Corp., the company controlled by NASCAR's France family, extended a feasibility study into putting a track in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J., and also is studying a site near Denver.

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

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