CONCORD, N.C. – Thoughts, observations, questions and some garage whispers from the UAW-GM Quality 500 weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Can there ever be a NASCAR race weekend without some kind of controversy? It was the track and the tires this time around. Maybe the controversies are what makes this sport so unique, or maybe they are why some people love it and others hate it.
The levigated track surface at Lowe's Motor Speedway created too much grip, the tires from Goodyear weren't right, and speeds were up – all the ingredients necessary to create the perfect storm, which we had Saturday night. There were more than a dozen tire failures (I lost count of the actual number), including four suffered by cars leading the race at the time.
It's really hard to blame any one entity for this debacle.
I talked to several drivers who said they were driving into Turns 1 and 2 flat out – at this track while in a stock car. That's absolutely crazy! (And that's not my opinion, but that of several drivers I spoke with.)
Kevin Harvick was in rare form all weekend. Following his wreck due to a tire failure during Friday night's Busch race, he told a national television audience that "the infield care center had better have plenty of stretchers for the Cup race." He wrecked again during said Cup race, and his comments were even more colorful.
"This is the biggest joke in racing that I've ever seen, with tires going down and it's just terrible. Everybody saw it coming [Friday] night. ... It's pretty disgusting and pretty embarrassing for our sport."
After watching the first 80 laps, it seemed all the predictions that this race would be a wreck-fest were off base. The racing was close, and there had been just a few tire problems to that point. Maybe we all had been jumping to conclusions.
Shortly thereafter, all hell broke loose, and it seemed there was a caution every 20 to 30 laps for the remainder of the race. There actually was a total of 15 cautions for 83 laps, while Friday night's Busch race had a record 13 cautions.
It sure was great to watch Ricky Rudd have another strong run. There has been a lot of talk about him possibly retiring at the end of this season. I sure would hate to see him go.
Racing has its risks, but does it have to be as risky as Saturday's race? A race car driver knows that a hundred things can go wrong during a race, but does he have to go through every lap thinking that his tires can fail at any moment?
Word from England is that billionaire home improvement magnate John Menard, whose engine company has been building racing engines for Robby Gordon's team, has sold his racing and engine-building shop to Honda. Does that mean Gordon will have to start looking for another engine supplier?
Was this Tony Stewart's mulligan race?
Why is it that Ryan Newman is so good driving his Penske-built Busch car, but he can't come close to that level of performance in his Penske-built Cup car? Newman's fifth consecutive win in a Busch car this weekend tied Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s record. I expect Newman will end up setting a new record before the end of the season.
NASCAR delayed the start of the race by 26 minutes because the USC-Notre Dame game, being broadcast on NBC, ran late. I wonder what would have happened if the football game had gone into overtime.
Also, word leaked out this weekend that NBC has bowed out of negotiations to broadcast NASCAR races after their contract ends at the end of 2006. I won't say I told you so!
OK, so there were 20 Cup drivers in the Busch race. Still, I hate it when those races are referred to as "Chase tune-up races" or "Chase practice races." They're not.
Those are cheap television terms used by producers who don't completely appreciate the racing.
NASCAR president Mike Helton tried his best to answer questions from the media following the race.
"This certainly wasn't our finest hour," Helton said.
No, Mr. Helton, it certainly wasn't.
It was very cool that Newman thanked racing legend Alex Zanardi for showing him how to do doughnuts. It was Zanardi who started the tradition of doing doughnuts following race victories.
Someone asked me, "Which race was worse for the fans this year – [Sunday's] UAW-GM Quality 500 or the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis?"
That's a tough call. Ironically, both races had issues centered on tires.
I hear that ARCA RE/Max Series Rookie of the Year Joey Miller will be driving four races for Darrell Waltrip's Toyota truck team. The 20-year-old phenom has been impressive since he first sat behind the wheel of a stock car.
Has anyone else noticed how exceptionally well Denny Hamlin has done in his two outings in the No. 11 FedEx Chevy for Joe Gibbs Racing?
Making a mistake is tough to admit sometimes. Making one in front of a lot of people is embarrassing. Making one in racing happens all the time. Just ask Ray Evernham.
Things slow down quite a bit next weekend as the NASCAR circus travels to the short track at Martinsville. Tony Stewart once said of Martinsville Speedway, "I think they should turn the place into a parking lot."