Jeff Meyer · Wednesday October 19, 2005
Fasten your seatbelts and hang on! In order to make some sort of sense out of the farce that has become racing at Lowe's Motor Speedway, we will be jumping around a bit so bear with me.
Voices, June 1, 2005...Without beating around the bush, the Coca-Cola 600 was an utter and total FARCE! Consider this: The longest green flag run last week, in a 600 mile race mind you, was 46 laps! After that the longest was 34!
That's what I said after the Coca-Cola 600 this past May. I could not fathom that the October race would be worse! Consider this: The longest green flag run last Saturday night was 29 laps! Want to guess what the only thing that made the UAW-GM Quality 500 better than the Coca-Cola 600 was? That's right, it was thankfully, only 500 miles instead of 600.
Let's look back now, to how this all began...
President and GM of LMS, H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, February 24, 2005..."Basically what we've got is a beautiful golf course but the putts aren't going exactly where we want. So we are smoothing out the greens. When we paved the track in 1994, we used a polymer in the pavement that was fairly new at the time. It has held up remarkably well, but like all high-banked race tracks it has developed deviations. We talked extensively about repaving the track but right now the way the race cars are set up, new pavement tends to create a one-groove track. When the grinding process is complete, the track is going to be so much smoother that I think it will make a tremendous difference in the racing."
After the grinding is complete, here's what some of the drivers had to say after testing...
Greg Biffle, May 4th, 2005..."I was so disappointed when they ground the track. I was like 'man that was a great race track, they shouldn't t have messed with it'. The bumps gave it character," Biffle said. "But now I'm just shocked. I've never seen grinding a race track do what it did here. It's just so fast. I'm driving in the second groove, or even the third groove," Biffle continued. "I'm not running on the bottom, so that tells you there will be side-by-side racing. This is going to be one of the best shows out of all 36 races."
Jeff Gordon..."They've certainly found something that works very well with this track," Gordon said about the renovated racing surface. "The corners are just fantastic. Some of the guys have been running more in the middle to higher lines, which is a positive thing. I think it's a good sign of things to come."
Elliot Sadler..."I give Humpy Wheeler and everyone here an A+ on the corners. They are very smooth and there's a lot of grip. I've never been to a race track before where you could just run up high. I'm used to running around the bottom all the time. They've done a great job at creating side-by-side racing here and it's going to make the All-Star race and the Coke 600 very exciting for the fans. It still has a lot of bumps on the back, but they did a great job with the corners. You are going to see racing like at Atlanta where they go from the bottom to the top with three-wide racing."
During that testing period, Gordon was faster than the track record. LMS PR said..."Gordon's lap came as teams concentrated on long runs, searching for the proper chassis setup to complement the harder right-side tires Goodyear has manufactured for the track's May events. The tires performed flawlessly Wednesday and one veteran crew chief said tire issues that developed during Tuesday's testing were the result of teams "getting greedy with tire pressures and camber."
So, to briefly recap, everyone thinks this is all a great idea! Now, go back to my first sentence of the June 1 Voices. Yeah, we all know how well it worked out! Guess it wasn't such a good idea after all. Suddenly, the drivers are changing their tune and are now complaining about the track. Changes must be made, which leads us to another round of 'levigation'.
Bruton Smith, owner of SMI, June 25, 2005..."We've had engineers out there for the past week, so we're making some decisions and they're going to be the right ones. I liked [levigation], but I think it created some problems. But still, it made for a heck of race. That's what we're after. I'm not worried about cost. I want to make sure [the changes] are right.''
What changes did they do since the May race? Well, the areas that had been ground the first time were re-ground and the low groove on the exit of Turn 2 and the frontstretch were ground for the first time. The result; six cars are crashed during testing for last Saturday's race. Supposedly, Goodyear is bringing the same 'harder right side tires' the made for the May race. Humpy thinks "...everything is going to be OK" for the October UAW-GM Quality 500. But...
"Humpy" Wheeler, September 23, 2005..."I think there's no question sometime in 2006 we will be repaving the track," Wheeler said. "We need to make sure when we do it we make the right mix. There are new asphalt polymers that are doing for race tracks what Tifton Bermuda grass has done for golf courses. We will also look at the possibility of changing some of the banking. The challenge is how we can create a second groove that's as fast as the first groove, and we need to find out if there is a way to do the second groove and make it just as fast."
Ok, so now they are going to repave the whole track for next year. They say they had been planning to do so all along, but I'd bet they wouldn't be had the last two races at LMS great instead of goofs. But wait, there is more!
The plan, according to Wheeler, is to begin the re-paving in March of next year. That process should take 2-3 weeks and, as reported by David Newton of www.thestate.com, "...would give Goodyear, the official tire sponsor of NASCAR, the 30 days it requires to schedule testing before the all-star race and Coca-Cola 600 in May."
My questions; Given the controversy after the first grinding of LMS, why wasn't Goodyear testing tires at LMS after the second grinding? There was ample time if you go by there '30 day requirement'. What was NASCAR, as the sanctioning body, doing (besides counting cash) during all this time between May and October? Shouldn't they be insisting to Goodyear step up to the plate?
Believe it or not folks, I do not have all the answers. However, it seems to me that when you actually go back and look at some of the quotes of this past year, and the sequence of events that led up to last Saturday night's fiasco, the blame is a little easier to place.
That blame, in my opinion, rests on Goodyear, NASCAR, LMS and the drivers, in that order. Goodyear for failure to provide a better tire after the May race (especially in light of ALL the tire problems they've had this year), NASCAR for not wanting to upset Goodyear brass by insisting they fix the problems instead of kissing their butts, LMS and "Humpy" for trying to fix something they planned on fixing right in 2006 anyway and lastly, the drivers for being so wishy-washy saying the track is good, the track is bad, and being so worried about repercussions if they say what they really feel about the tires.
Look for ticket sales to be down next May at Lowe's. I'd bet on it!
Stay off the wall (your pants will get dirty from all the rubber on it!),
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