'Give-back' rule has NASCAR drivers yapping about lapping

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It was bad enough that drivers leading a Winston Cup race could randomly decide to "give" another driver the opportunity to pass him to get a lap back when the caution flag came out.

But with the rule change that went into effect before last week's race at Dover, Del., it seems even worse. Now, NASCAR simply awards a lap back to the highest running driver not on the lead lap at the time of a caution.

Opinions in the Winston Cup garage area going into today's EA Sports 500 at Talladega, Ala., are mixed.

Ryan Newman, who won for the seventh time last weekend in Dover, primarily because of the "give-back" program, still insists he doesn't agree with the rule but will take advantage of it when possible.

Tony Eury Sr., crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr., thinks the rule is outlandish.

"These leaders run the race hard all day to lap people and get them a lap down, and NASCAR gives it back to them," Eury said. "It's a stupid rule, and it's going to be stupid as long as they use it."

Points leader Matt Kenseth sees both sides, noting, "Some day, I'm going to want a free lap back, and I'm going to think it's cool," he said. "But I still don't know if that's the best policy. A free pass really isn't racing."

Jeff Burton voiced his frustration but didn't blame the rule change on NASCAR.

"We didn't do what NASCAR asked us to do," said Burton, referring to the fact that drivers this season had consistently flouted the age-old gentleman's agreement of not racing back to the start-finish line under caution.

"It's our own fault," Burton said. "If we would have done it the right way, it wouldn't be like this. This is what we get."

On the other side is Ricky Rudd, who also got a lap back at Dover.

"It sure was nice not having to go up there and try to beat up on the leaders to try to get your lap back," Rudd said. "It was a pretty neat deal. I think it's a good rule, and it should have been here a long time ago."

Jimmy Spencer also has no quarrels with it.

"At some point in your career, you knew you were going to be the beneficiary of racing back to the caution," said Spencer. "You could have a flat tire or run out of gas and lose a lap. But you knew you could get it back. Now, with no racing back to the caution, that's all null and void. Now, giving a lap back is the only way you can get it. That's why you need it."

Both sides make logical arguments. But racing has never been about giving anything away - let alone giving away hard-earned advantages on the lead lap.

"No one should be rewarded for someone else's caution," said Newman.

Pastrana changing tracks

Motocross superstar Travis Pastrana of Annapolis is taking steps to move into a less dangerous form of racing.

Pastrana, who has raced little this season because of injury, won the American Motorcyclist Association eastern region Supercross title in 2001 with five victories in seven races. In 2002, he recorded three podium finishes in the 250cc AMA Supercross series with Team SoBe Suzuki before being sidelined.

He has been limited this season because of injuries suffered in racing, training and in a traffic accident. Yet he remains one of the world's most popular riders, with his own action figure, a DVD of highlights and a bobblehead doll.

Yesterday and today, he is driving in the Porsche Michelin Supercup races during the United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Pastrana, 19, is racing the No. 1 Porsche 911 GT3 car fielded by the Porsche AG team. The Porsche Michelin Supercup series, the world's fastest single-marque sports car series, is the support race for the Formula One race on the 2.605-mile Indy road course.

Tightest race since 1986

The Formula One series, which races today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has its tightest points race since 1986, when Alain Prost won over Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet.

Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari leads the chase with 82 points, but 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya is right behind him with 79 points in his Williams-BMW. Kimi Raikkonen, who drives for West McLaren-Mercedes, is third with 75.

It's much different from the last three years, when Schumacher ran away with the Title; last year, he won 11 of 17 races and matched or set records all along the way.

"To some degree a fight is always great, but, honestly, I didn't mind the last three years, either," Schumacher said.

SPEED TV will carry today's U.S. Grand Prix at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Nuts and bolts

The International Hot Rod Association's 12th annual President's Cup Nationals conclude today at Maryland International Raceway in Mechanicsville. Defending Top Fuel world champ Clay Millican is trying to make amends for not winning at MIR last season.

"We are running wide-open, trying to avenge our one loss," said Millican. "The race at this track cost us the perfect season."

The Turbo-Blue Hub-City National 150 for the ITSI late models, postponed by Hurricane Isabel, is being staged this weekend at Hagerstown Speedway and is to conclude today with warm-ups at 1 p.m., followed by a B-Main and a complete program of qualifying and feature events for the late model sportsman cars.

Mario Andretti will be the first race car driver to be profiled on Arts & Entertainment Network's Biography Series. Filming and interviews are to begin at this weekend's CART Series race at the Grand Prix Americas in Miami.

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