Save Mart/Kragen 350 Friday Notebook By Dave Rodman SONOMA, Calif. (June 26, 1998) Notes and quotes following Bud Pole Award Qualifying Friday for the Save Mart/Kragen 350 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at Sears Point Raceway: Opinion...
Save Mart/Kragen 350 Friday Notebook
By Dave Rodman
SONOMA, Calif. (June 26, 1998) Notes and quotes following Bud Pole Award Qualifying Friday for the Save Mart/Kragen 350 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at Sears Point Raceway:
Opinion was divided on whether the change to Sears Point's road course, which eliminated the section that formerly covered from turn 4 through turn 7 and connecting the two turns with a short straight dubbed "The Chute," would badly affect passing opportunities.
However, one thing the change did was make orange traffic cones necessary at the apex of the new turn 4 to prevent aggressive NASCAR Winston Cup drivers from short-cutting the corner and kicking gravel onto the circuit. Two of the first three cautions in the three-hour Friday NWC practice were a result of debris.
Ward Burton christened the new section of the course when he ran off track on the exit of turn 7 in the No. 22 MBNA America Pontiac, skipped through the extensive gravel trap that's been added to the outside of the turn and then hit the styrofoam barriers about 40 yards off the left side of the course.
He damaged the left front of the car and the team also brought a dustpan and brush into play to clean the dirt and gravel from under the car.
Todd Bodine, who won a NASCAR Winston Cup Bud Pole Award last season for the Bud at the Glen at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, was frustrated when he crashed at the top of the hill in turn 2 on his first hot lap of the day in the No. 35 Tabasco Pontiac.
Thus, he has a big order in Saturday morning's practice as he has to find the speed to advance from his first-round effort that landed him in 42nd. "That was our first lap on the track," said Bodine, who was obviously disgusted. "It's pretty simple to say what happened, and it's frustrating."
Jimmy Spencer also made it into the turn 2 tire barrier in practice, but he managed to rebound well enough to qualify 30th in the Winston No Bull Ford.
Lake Speed broke a string of accidents that failed to badly damage cars when he wiped-out the Cartoon Network road course car when he got off course at the high-speed turn 10 - - the last corner at the end of the "backstretch" esses.
After Speed's accident the Melling Racing team asked defending NASCAR Winston West champion Butch Gilliland to attempt to qualify its backup car, and NASCAR officials cleared the Californian to drive.
"I was up on the hill and when I came back, they were all looking for me," said Gilliland, who although spectating had his gear with him. He qualified the car, an oval track back-up, in 40th.
Later in the afternoon, Speed -- who was second on the practice time sheet when he crashed -- confirmed that he drove to Sonoma Valley Hospital for x-rays following his accident. He said doctors found no broken bones but that he had torn right and left rib cartilage and suffered bruises. Speed said he would receive physical therapy from trainers and that he hoped to be in the No. 9 Ford in the Saturday morning practice.
Ironically, 1996 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday, who was hand- picked to drive the No. 17 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, also did a complete 360-spin turn 10 on his qualifying lap, but did not hit anything.
The excursion probably cost him five seconds and relegated him to 45th on the time sheet.
Tom Kendall, business-minded math maven that he is, calculated that the change to Sears Point's road course, while shortening the length and number of turns in a single lap, had resulted in a total of more than 320 additional corners on the menu in the course of the complete Save Mart/Kragen 350.
Jeremy Mayfield met with the media in the Sears Point media center Friday morning to discuss his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory last weekend in the Pocono 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
"It's been phenomenal," Mayfield said about his week. "I couldn't wait to get here. Because I don't run on road courses a lot, this is one of the first times I've come to Sears Point on a Friday morning and feel happy. I just didn't realize that I had this much support, not only in the series itself, but outside the series as far as the fans and everybody involved."
Mayfield, the NASCAR Winston Cup point leader, rewarded their concern by qualifying fifth -- one of several drivers not known as road course drivers who qualified extremely well.
Bobby Hamilton was one of those, and he tried to credit his Morgan-McClure Motorsports team for his sixth place effort.
"I think everybody who gets in this car becomes a good road racer," Hamilton said, "because I'm not a very good road racer. All I did was give them the input and they fixed everything the car was doing. We had this car in Japan and I told Larry (McClure) car owner that I had never had one that had drove that good."
On the other hand, Sterling Marlin had been a surprising eighth-best in practice but he only qualified 16th. "I can't drive it in the corners because it locks the brakes up," Marlin said. "You just have to let off early."
Only three drivers -- Geoff Bodine, Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace -- have won NASCAR Winston Cup races at Sears Point, Watkins Glen and Riverside, the three most recent road courses on the circuit.
Bodine qualified fourth, Rudd was 15th and Wallace was mired in 28th after his team thrashed to change a transmission and he locked up the brakes in the turn 11 hairpin on his qualifying lap, missing the apex by 12 feet and ruining the lap.
Of the six top active drivers in modern-era road racing, only three -- Geoff Bodine, Darrell Waltrip and Ricky Rudd -- made the field through first-round qualifying.
The others -- Rusty Wallace, defending Sears Point winner Mark Martin and Ernie Irvan, did not. Wallace had his turn 11 problem, Martin ran off course when he "tried to carry too much speed through that new section," and Irvan also lost his time in the hairpin.
The farthest back a winner has started on an active NASCAR Winston Cup road course in the modern era is 13th, which occurred three times: Davey Allison won the 1991 Banquet 300 at Sears Point from 13th as did Rusty Wallace (1989) and Geoff Bodine (1996) at Watkins Glen.
Source: NASCAR Online