Pressure Cooker Boils Over during Testing
By the time the checkered flag was waved over the six-hour session, four race cars had been wrecked and opinions about the condition of the race track, which has undergone additional levigating since the Coca-Cola 600 in May, were swirling through the garage area like a small tornado.
"I don't know if it's the track or the combination of the track with the tires," said point leader Tony Stewart after slamming the Turn 2 wall just 30 minutes into the session. "I don't remember any of the drivers asking them to make the changes here. You have to give 'Humpy' [Wheeler, track president and general manager] credit though. He's trying to make it better but it's kind of made it worse.
"After running three laps and destroying a car, it doesn't give us much to look forward to. We've got to figure out how we can run around here and not wreck. Maybe when we come back everything will be better," Stewart continued. "They had a car show here this weekend and the track is dirty, so who knows maybe we just need more laps on the track."
Title contender Mark Martin was third fastest on the unofficial stopwatches with a lap at 184.414 mph in the Viagra Ford but, like Stewart, has reservations about the track surface.
"It's pretty messed up," was Martin's summation. "This is the world's greatest race track and it was awesome the way it was. It's messed up now. 'Humpy' has tried to make it better by fixing the lower groove in one and two but they shouldn't have manipulated this race track in the first place. Did you see the race last time? The race in May was an indication of what we are going to have this time."
Veteran Ricky Rudd, who had a fastest lap of 182.420 mph in the No. 21 Ford, offered a completely different opinion.
"The track is making good grip and the tires are great," Rudd said. "The set-ups have changed so much since we were here in May and that's getting a lot of guys in trouble. We had strayed from our May set-up when we unloaded, but we got back to it pretty quickly. I'm not sure why these guys are complaining. We're running in the 29-second bracket in the heat of the day and that was absolutely unheard of before they ground the track."
H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway and a former boxer, compared the atmosphere in the garage area to a heavyweight title fight.
"This is the biggest pressure cooker in sports today. It's almost like you are fighting for the heavyweight championship every week," Wheeler said. "There's a lot of pressure on these guys and they are taking these things to the edgeâ€”right to the edge of the cliff, and every once in a while you will go off the cliff.
"The track has been very hot. The track temperature was probably over 135 today. A lot of guys got out at 3 o'clock and there was no rubber on the track. As far as the track is concerned, I really don't see any problems," Wheeler continued. "We've levigated the whole front straightaway and we also levigated up toward the wall. But if you're up there, you are already wrecked anyway. Everything else is the same as it was in May."
Stewart was finished for the evening following his accident, but plans to return Wednesday evening with a different car. Mike Bliss also walked away from a crash in Turn 2 and Boris Said bounced off the Turn 3 wall just five minutes into the session.
"It just got loose," Said explained. "I caught it and barely hit the wall. It only tore up the body, not the suspension. I didn't feel like as big an idiot when I saw some of the veterans were having trouble."
Just before 9 p.m. Greg Biffle slammed the outside wall in Turn 2. Biffle's car was heavily damaged but he was able to drive back to the garage area.
In the search for speed, Said rebounded to top the unofficial chart with a lap of 29.130 seconds, 185.376 mph, in his repaired No. 36 Chevrolet. The road racing veteran was one of only a few drivers to make a simulated qualifying run as most competitors concentrated on race set-ups.
Shortly before his crash, Biffle was second fastest at 184.938 mph in the No. 16 Ford with Martin third. Richard Childress Racing teammates Dave Blaney and Jeff Burton were next, both in Chevrolets. Blaney was clocked at 183.692 mph and Burton's best lap was at 183.636 mph.
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing for the Oct. 15 UAW-GM Quality 500 continues Wednesday evening. Cars will be on the track from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Fans can watch the action from the frontstretch grandstand free of charge and should enter through Gate 5A which is located next to the ticket office in Smith Tower.
Tickets for all events during UAW-GM Quality 500 weekend, including round five of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, can be purchased by calling 1-800-455-FANS or online here.
The top-10 unofficial speeds:
Showing driver, car number and speed:
1. Boris Said, 36, 185.376
2. Greg Biffle, 16, 184.938
3. Mark Martin, 6, 184.414
4. Dave Blaney, 07, 183.692
5. Jeff Burton, 31, 183.636
6. Ricky Rudd, 21, 182.420
7. Bobby Labonte, 18, 182.168
8. David Reutimann, 00, 181.996
9. Kurt Busch, 97, 181.366
10. Scott Wimmer, 22, 180.644