Inotes:/I Goodyears Have Bad Day

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Goodyear came under the gun again Sunday afternoon after several teams had problems with their right-front tires during Sunday’s Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Two drivers who dominated portions of the race, Rusty Wallace and pole winner Casey Atwood, lost tires while in the lead.

But they were only part of the problems. Three cars had trouble with right-front tires nearly simultaneously early in the race. Bobby Hamilton’s right-front went down, and he slipped into the outside wall off Turn 4 on Lap 33. Behind him, Ken Schrader and Sterling Marlin cut down tires, with Marlin hitting the wall in Turn 1 after the caution came out.

Later, Atwood, Joe Nemechek, Kenny Wallace (twice) and Michael Waltrip were some of the nearly dozen drivers that had trouble with right-front tires.

Goodyear engineers deflected questions about the tires by saying Schrader and Marlin both ran over debris. The tire company also warned teams Sunday morning to make sure they ran within the recommended tire pressures and didn’t put too much stress on the tires.

If you listen to Goodyear’s version, some teams just didn’t listen.

“It appears that heat is the common denominator in the incidents we’re seen involving right-front tires,” Goodyear engineer Tony Freund said. “We’ve seen no construction problems with the tires, but the heat effects are influenced by low tire pressure, an ambient (temperature) 30 degrees higher than last year, brakes running hot and motor heat.”

Atwood, who led 71 laps, said he ran over debris and cut down his tire on Lap 194.

“I guess we ran over something,” Atwood said. “I don’t think we popped a tire or anything was wrong with the tire. I felt it go down all the way down the back straightaway. I got into (Turn) 3, and it came all the way apart.

“Normally, when you have too much camber or something like that, it just pops and you go and hit the wall. I felt mine slowly going down all the way down the back straightaway.”

Andretti will remain in 43 car
John Andretti said this weekend he intends to be back with Petty Enterprises next season.

“Business as usual for next year,” Andretti said. “I made a commitment to Kyle (Petty) and the King way back when. They asked me if that was going to be OK, and I told them I’m going to stay. I believe in the guys on this team. It’s a great team, and once we can close in on the parts and pieces part of it we’ll be in good shape.”

Andretti is confident the Petty’s engine deal for 2002, which has former Robert Yates Racing engine builder Mike Ege preparing engines for the three Petty teams, and hopes the chassis program can get better, too.

“Kyle (Petty) made a good move with the engine program, and when you get to the chassis program you’re just not sure,” Andretti said. “That’s an ever-evolving situation. This year we ran the same chassis everywhere, which is not the way to go. It put us behind, but in some ways it might have helped us, too. We didn’t have to worry if it was the chassis or body or what was it. We more or less concentrated on the bodies and got them better. We were comparing chassis to chassis. I had a car here or there I didn’t like, and we just threw it back in the system and kept the ones we liked better.

“It’s a good system, but now it’s time to go forward. The guys that won races last year run different stuff the same races the next year. Just because you won before doesn’t mean you’re going to win again.”

Stewart still hates Hutchens
Tony Stewart put up a fight last week at Talladega after NASCAR forced him to wear a head-and-neck restraint system. He never got comfortable with it, and he’s not comfortable this week.

“I don’t feel like either one of the two devices is right for me right now,” Stewart said. “What we’ve had to do to get me comfortable in the car is basically make the Hutchens device not do its job. We’ve made the straps so long that no matter where I move my head, I don’t get the tension of the straps. If I get in a wreck, the device is not going to do its job because we don’t have it adjusted to where it’s going to do its job.”

Stewart blamed the media for NASCAR mandating a head-and-neck restraint system.

“I feel like NASCAR made a mistake, and they did it because of the pressure the media put on NASCAR,” Stewart said. “That’s where I feel like (the media) need to give NASCAR a break and let technology take its course instead of trying to make a great story about what controversy we can have this week.

“It put me as a driver in a bad position in a race car. It put me out there with 42 guys last week that I’d be comfortable running with anywhere in the country. But you put a device on that made me uncomfortable in the car, and not only did it put me in an awkward spot and an unsafe spot, it put the other 42 guys in an uncomfortable and unsafe spot.”

Stewart insisted he’s not against such restraint devices, but he hasn’t found one he likes. In fact, Stewart started work on his own device earlier this year but hasn’t had time to finish.

Rookies have experience at Phoenix
Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Ron Hornaday are Winston Cup rookies, and the series made its first stop at Phoenix this season. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have experience here.

All three are from the West Coast – Harvick and Hornaday from California and Busch from Las Vegas – so they’ve all raced here before.

“Phoenix is a track that I became familiar with when I was racing in the Southwest Series, and then last year I raced there in both the truck series and in Winston Cup,” Busch said.

Phoenix is like a home track for Hornaday, who is from Palmdale, Calif.

“I like this track,” Hornaday said. “It’s close to home and I’ve done a lot of racing here – Southwest Tour races, Winston West, Winston Cup and even a little bit of Busch. The track’s been good to me.”

The track wasn’t good to Harvick last year, but he rallied for a third-place finish in Saturday’s Outback Steakhouse 200 Busch Series race.

“We started the thing in the back (last year), and I ran it into the wall on Lap 2 or 3, and that didn’t do us any good,” Harvick said. “We were behind all weekend. It’s not like I’m short on experience at this place. I’ve got a number of races and laps. We came out here expecting to do good last year, and nothing went our way.”

Familiarity didn’t seem to help Busch or Harvick, as both used provisionals to get into Sunday’s race. But Hornaday started eighth.

PIR pours big bucks into local economy
Arizona State’s College of Business released a report on the economic impact PIR has on the area, claiming the race track generates $272 million worth of visitor expenditures, organizational expenditures and induced expenditures.

In addition to hosting NASCAR’s three top divisions, the track also has races for the Winston West, USAC, Supermodified and Grand-Am sports car series.

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