Ikansas Notebook:/I Saturday

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Ricky Rudd has changed seat-belt brands in the wake of torn belt found in Jeremy Mayfield’s car in last week’s MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 at Dover Downs International Speedway.

Rudd switched from Simpson, the brand in Mayfield’s car and the brand used by Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt’s belt broke in that crash, the result of “dumping,” when the belt gathers at one side of the metal adjuster and tears.

Rudd is using a Willans belt this weekend at Kansas Speedway. Willans is an English company, and some Formula One teams use them.

“For the first time in my racing career I’m using a different brand of belts,” Rudd said. “That might be somewhat of a panic result of what we saw this last week, but, until all the smoke clears and we figure everything out, I’m gonna try this brand of belt.”

Winston Cup director Gary Nelson held a briefing this week to inform teams what happened in the Mayfield crash. NASCAR also announced that the seat belt’s label must not be located in the adjuster when the driver is buckled in the seat.

“Basically, what came out of that briefing was that it doesn’t matter whose brand of belt it is, make sure that they’re installed right,” Rudd said. “You don’t realize it, but it’s very easy for these belts to get cocked in the mounting brackets and adjusting brackets. It’s kind of strange that all of a sudden now we’re starting to have a rash of problems, but we definitely have a problem on our hands.

“We were briefed on how to keep this from happening and at least keep your belts – if your belts are in a position where they don’t get cocked, they’re gonna do their job. If they get cocked in the car a little bit, they’re gonna fail so it doesn’t matter whose belt it is.”

Rudd said his team has changed mounting brackets and seat location to make sure the belts are at the correct angles to prevent dumping. Rudd said many teams are using a belt without an adjuster on the left side, which is the location of the tear in Mayfield’s belt and where Earnhardt’s belt broke.

Rudd may switch seat-belt brands again and go back to a non-adjustable Simpson.

“The belts that I’m wearing now are very uncomfortable belts, compared to the Simpson belts,” Rudd said. “They’re much more stiff. I’ve got bruises on both of my thighs where these belts are rubbing my thighs, but I’ll probably stick with it this week and see how it goes.

“I might switch back to the Simpson belt after hearing all the information we heard this week on the bracketry and probably go to a non-adjustable left-side belt. The belt’s just much more comfortable, but, again, both belts will do their job if the mounting attachments are set up correctly. I didn’t realize it was so much in the attachments as it was, until I saw this briefing the other day.”

Darby Headed to Winston Cup: Gary Nelson’s job will change after this season, though NASCAR hasn’t made an official announcement. Nelson will move to NASCAR’s research and development operation, and Busch Series director John Darby will move to Winston Cup to take Nelson’s position.

“We’re going to miss him,” said Keith Barnwell, general manager for ppc Racing, a Busch Series team. “We are going to miss John Darby. All of us have a lot of respect for John. His door is always open. The thing I like most about John is he may not agree with you, and he may not want to hear it, but he will listen to you when you talk.

“He’s going to be great (for Winston Cup).”

Harvick Amused With Rudd-Wallace ‘Feud:’ Kevin Harvick smirked when he was asked about the controversy surrounding the Rudd-Rusty Wallace incidents the past few weeks. Harvick, who was fined $10,000 for fighting with Chad Little in the garage after an on-track incident at Darlington, said NASCAR was being hypocritical when dealing with Rudd and Wallace.

“I thought it was odd that two guys could run into each other three weeks in a row, and they don’t say anything to them,” Harvick said. “It cost me $10,000 to push and shove, and Ricky Rudd can grab on to Rusty Wallace, and they can run into each other every race.

“This is a fun question. I like it. It’s almost a hypocritical situation here. The veterans were the ones squalling about Dale Jr. and I about our driving characteristics. Dale Jr. won the race last week and I finished sixth, and the main topic was Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace – Rubberhead and Conehead, right? I find that kind of interesting, but obviously NASCAR didn’t think that was as detrimental to the sport as situations in the past.”

The number of on-track incidents have picked up in recent weeks.

“This is the worst I’ve seen it in all the years I’ve been racing, and the season didn’t start that way,” Rudd said. “It just seems like it’s gotten that way since about the midway point.”

It’s past time to calm down, said Winston Cup points leader Jeff Gordon. But even Gordon admits it’s hard not to try to get revenge after someone hits you.

“The first thing you want to do is hit them right back,” Gordon said. “You don’t want it to come to that out there because we’re dealing with lives, we’re dealing with very fast speeds out there. We’re dealing with guys that are our friends when we get off the race track.

“We’ve got to be very careful, be more conscious of that. Sometimes, we’re not.”

Leffler Misses His Dad: Jason Leffler didn’t do much celebrating Friday night after winning the pole for Sunday’s Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway. No one would have blamed him for partying, for Leffler’s pole was the first of his NASCAR Winston Cup career, and it came after a difficult season.

All Leffler did was have dinner with some friends. But one of his closest friends, his father, wasn’t there.

Charles Leffler died of a heart attack in August while Jason was in Bristol for the Sharpie 500. Charles and Jason were spitting images of one another, and Jason definitely misses his dad.

“My father was a big race fan,” Jason said. “He got me started. We went to Ascot Park, a famous dirt track in Southern California. It’s closed down now, but we went there to watch sprint cars every Saturday night. That’s what got me interested in racing.”

Leffler said his father was in good health, so the heart attack was “very unexpected.”

“I raced on Saturday night at Bristol after he died on Friday,” Leffler said. “It was tough, but he worked hard to get me here, and I just had to race. It kept my mind off of it for a few hours. I wrecked early on at Bristol, so it’s been a bad couple of weeks. Hopefully this will turn us around.

“I’m sure he’s proud. He worked really hard to get me to this level. He was a great father, and I really miss him. I wish he could have been here to see it, but we’re looking forward to Sunday, and if we could win the race he would really be proud.”

New Hampshire Race Still Looms: Even though Mike Helton said curtly at Dover last week that NASCAR was going to race at New Hampshire the day after Thanksgiving despite public protest by several drivers, that race is still on the minds of many competitors.

“Oh, I’m looking forward to 20 degrees,” Gordon said sarcastically. “Can’t wait for that.”

“I’ll be right there with you, buddy,” Bill Elliott said.

Rumor Mill Churning: Hills Bros. Coffee apparently won’t be back with Junie Donlavey’s team in 2002. The sponsor wants to move to a bigger team, according to reports, and could take driver Hut Stricklin and crew chief Phillipe Lopez with them. The Andy Petree Racing team is a possibility, as Petree is looking for a sponsor for his No. 33 team.

That would leave Joe Nemechek searching for a job. Also, the C.F. Sauer Co., which sponsors the Eel River Racing team and driver Rick Mast, could move to Donlavey’s team, which would make sense since both are based in Richmond, Va.

Other reports have Mike Skinner close to a deal with Morgan-McClure Motorsports, which announced recently that Kevin Lepage wouldn’t be back next season. Skinner decided to have knee surgery right away so he could recover in time for the 2002 season.

Skinner’s replacement in the No. 31 Chevy ha been rumored to be Robby Gordon.

“I hope so,” Gordon said. “I’m just hoping that I can do a good enough job in these few races that I’m driving to secure the ride for 2002. My deal is not done. A lot of people are saying that I’m shooting commercials and all that stuff, but it’s just not true. I would like to have that ride for next year and I’m going to do everything I can with my driving abilities to get that.”

Harvick the Favorite Sunday? If Kansas Speedway is a lot like Chicagoland Speedway, Harvick has to be considered the favorite because he won the first race at the Joliet, Ill., track in July.

“The car felt really good in race trim,” Harvick said. “If it stays like it is, with everything we’ve go underneath the car we’ve got from Chicago, it should be a lot similar to the way it raced at Chicago.”

Harvick was 13th in Happy Hour practice with a lap of 172.529 mph. Ryan Newman, driving a backup car after crashing in practice Friday, was fastest at 173.594, followed by Tony Stewart, Sterling Marlin, Rudd and Todd Bodine.

Winning at Kansas a Big Deal? Winning the first Winston Cup race at Kansas Speedway would be quite an accomplishment. Or would it?

“I guess everybody wants to be the guy to win the first race at a new race track,” Jeff Gordon said. “I don’t know why, because we really just want to win anywhere.”

“I’d just like to win anywhere,” Elliott said. “Sunday would be a good day to start.”

Kansas Speedway has gotten a great deal of praise from drivers.

“This is going to be one of the premiere facilities on the circuit,” Gordon said. “It’s an awesome facility and race track. I don’t know whether we’ll be able to showcase that this Sunday, but in future races I think you going to see great races here.”

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