Drivers worry track is too fast


CONCORD, N.C. -- The last race at Lowe's Motor Speedway was a demolition derby at dizzying speeds, rife with a NASCAR-record 22 caution flags.

For tonight's UAW-GM 500, the track is even faster. That's due to further smoothing of the surface with a laser-computer grinding process called levigation, combined with techniques to increase grip.

And there's another element of danger: the urgency of the Chase for the Nextel Cup, which reaches the halfway point tonight.

"I think you're going to have a lot of cautions," pole-sitter Elliott Sadler said, "and not all because of the racetrack, [but also] because the guys racing so close in the Chase right now don't want to give an inch."

Sadler isn't a contender in the playoffs, but the intensity of the 10 drivers who are can affect the entire 43-car field.

"This is a fast, fast racetrack, and you can get loose beside people pretty fast," Sadler said.

"Hopefully," said playoff contender Mark Martin, who won last week at Kansas City, "the drivers will be able to race without running over one another."

A year ago here, 188 mph was the pole speed. This time, all qualifiers exceeded 188, and Sadler won the pole at a blistering 193.216. Ryan Newman, who is in the Chase, was second-fastest at 193.126. Teams estimate their cars are reaching 197 mph entering the turns.

The difference? A year ago, the 1.5-mile track generically known to drivers as "Charlotte" was one of their favorites. But speedway president Howard Augustus "Humpy" Wheeler, long known as the most flamboyant promoter in NASCAR, wanted to put more side-by-side racing in the show.

Though the 45-year-old track had been repaved several times, wear and aging had made "a one-groove racetrack," Wheeler said. "What are you going to do? We had so many bumps on the track, we couldn't race side by side."

So he brought in technology in which a laser beam mapped the topography of the surface with electronic precision, then a computer-driven grinding device was used to smooth the track.

The first race on the refined surface, the May 29 Coca-Cola 600, brought out the 22 cautions, surpassing the record of 21 set twice at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, a notoriously wild half-mile oval.

It just wasn't supposed to happen at a track with three times as much room to race.

"It wasn't just the racetrack," Wheeler said.

Television -- NBC won't extend its contract with NASCAR beyond the 2006 season, a person involved in the negotiations told the Associated Press yesterday. ABC/ESPN are expected to replace NBC as one of NASCAR's television partners, according to a television executive who declined to be identified because the deal wasn't complete.

Busch Dollar General 300 -- Ryan Newman set a NASCAR record by winning his fifth consecutive series race last night, avoiding a track-record 14 cautions en route to the victory at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Newman, who has only entered seven Busch races this season, came into the event tied with Sam Ard for the series record for consecutive wins. Ard won four straight in 1983.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Tonight's lineup

UAW-GM Quality 500

At Concord, N.C. Lap length: 1.5 miles

(Car number in parentheses)

1. (38) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 193.216 mph. 2. (12) Ryan Newman, Dodge, 193.126. 3. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevy, 192.850. 4. (20) Tony Stewart, Chevy, 192.706. 5. (18) Bobby Labonte, Chevy, 192.671. 6. (6) Mark Martin, Ford, 192.014. 7. (97) Kurt Busch, Ford, 191.959. 8. (99) Carl Edwards, Ford, 191.864. 9. (41) Casey Mears, Dodge, 191.823. 10. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevy, 191.714. 11. (0) Mike Bliss, Chevy, 191.544. 12. (01) Joe Nemechek, Chevy, 191.394. 13. (5) Kyle Busch, Chevy, 191.381. 14. (22) Scott Wimmer, Dodge, 191.008. 15. (10) Scott Riggs, Chevy, 190.948. 16. (45) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 190.779. 17. (66) Kevin Lepage, Ford, 190.772. 18. (17) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 190.712. 19. (31) Jeff Burton, Chevy, 190.678. 20. (88) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 190.597. 21. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 190.490. 22. (07) Dave Blaney, Chevy, 190.409. 23. (7) Robby Gordon, Chevy, 190.335. 24. (32) Bobby Hamilton Jr., Chevy, 190.074. 25. (25) Brian Vickers, Chevy, 189.934. 26. (00) David Reutimann, Chevy, 189.873. 27. (2) Rusty Wallace, Dodge, 189.827. 28. (8) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevy, 189.720. 29. (42) Jamie McMurray, Dodge, 189.633. 30. (40) Sterling Marlin, Dodge, 189.567. 31. (21) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 189.547. 32. (15) Michael Waltrip, Chevy, 189.527. 33. (9) Kasey Kahne, Dodge, 189.387. 34. (39) David Stremme, Dodge, 189.374. 35. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevy, 189.308. 36. (4) Mike Wallace, Chevy, 189.003. 37. (19) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 188.923. 38. (51) Stuart Kirby, Chevy, 188.469. 39. (11) Denny Hamlin, Chevy, 188.003. 40. (49) Ken Schrader, Dodge, owner points. 41. (43) Jeff Green, Dodge, owner points. 42. (77) Travis Kvapil, Dodge, owner points. 43. (09) Johnny Sauter, Dodge, 188.212.

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