February 24, 2004 | 11:18 A.M. EST
A: Bob, that question came in from hundreds of fans. NASCAR has a way of writing its rules with an Etch-a-Sketch I know, but here's how it was explained. Because of the new rule that automatically freezes the field as soon as the caution comes out, Kenseth and Kahne, who were first and second at the time, were locked into those spots. Yes, they were on pit road, but because their pits were past the start/finish line (which extends from the race track through the pits), when the caution froze the field, they were on the lead lap and went to the end of the line. When the rest of the cars then pitted for service, they moved back into the first and second spots. You, thousands of other fans as well as Jamie McMurray and Chip Ganassi disagree.
Q: Do you think NASCAR will stop this "field filler" deal that happened at Rockingham?
A: I think it will stop, especially after Joe Ruttman started the race without a pit crew and Kirk Shelmerdine was 14 mph slower than the race leader after two laps. In a way, it's almost refreshing to think that despite the sport being so big and money ruling everything, the short fields will allow independent guys a chance to make a Nextel Cup Series race. But there's a big difference with a team actually trying to do its best to make a race and compete at the best of its limited ability (Carl Long and Andy Hillenburg at Rockingham for instance) with showing up and collecting a check. Everyone says the TV deal mandates a 43-car field but no one will confirm this. I think television would rather start a 36 car field of quality teams than a watered down 43-car grid. After one laps, who cares how many cars are on the track anyway. NASCAR used to start 32 on a short track and expanded the field when corporate funded teams were missing the show. Well now the opposite has happened with a lack of fully-backed teams on the tour, so why not just shortened the grid?
Q: Does Al Unser, Jr. have a ride for the 2004 IRL season?
A: Junior does not have anything lined-up at the moment. There are only 19 cars entered in Sunday's season opener at Homestead and Unser is not on the list. It looks like he may have to settle for a sub role in 2004 and hope a well-funded team owner decides to roll out an additional entry at Indianapolis (Penske?). Otherwise one of the IRL's most notable drivers, as well as its most popular (Sarah Fisher) will be watching most of the season.
Q: What's the deal with CART, OWRS, Champ Car or whatever its going to be called. No official schedule, TV package, nothing.
A: The paperwork was finally made official last week and the new OWRS group is running in overdrive trying to catch up on things. We're told to expect a 15-race schedule, which will start in Long Beach on April 18, and that the television deal with include time buys on CBS and SpikeTV. However many of those events are said to be tape-delayed, which will make selling sponsorship for both the teams and the series a tough go. The series is also doing what it can to generate an 18-car field and despite some new blood coming in (RuSport), it looks like the trio of Gentilozzi/Forsythe/Kalkhoven will be forced to field multi-car teams as well as run the series to make it happen.
Q: Don't you think rather than take away Rockingham and adding a second date at Texas or Phoenix, NASCAR would be better off going to new markets like Kentucky or Nashville, which both have first class tracks certainly able to host a Cup race?
A: Randy, I think it would be best to give most every track one date so the series could get more exposure by travelling around the country. But we all know that ISC is the parent company of NASCAR and owns the rights to the majority of races at its tracks. If Rockingham totally goes away in 2005, that date will go to either Texas to head off the lawsuit between SMI-ISC, or to another ISC-owned facility like Phoenix. When ISC gets its track built in the Pacific Northwest, a Darlington date will go there. Ditto when New York comes online at the end of the decade (say good-bye to one Martinsville stop). It's about the number of butts in seats and the newer facilities have that going for them. And NASCAR wants to do whatever it can to bring the sport to more major markets for television and sponsorship purposes. I don't think a sell-out at Rockingham Sunday would have saved the track from becoming a Busch-Truck-ASA-ARCA-Silver Crown venue in 2005.
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