How Lowes Can You Go?

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When the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup began, drivers were worried about two tracks: Talladega and Martinsville.

They should have been worried about Lowe's Motor Speedway.

For the second straight race, levigation proved hazardous to navigation, and the UAW-GM 500 turned into a crapshoot of Vegas proportions.

Among those to lose big were Tony Stewart, Elliott Sadler, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Hamilton, Jr., Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick. By the time the race ended (mercifully), there had been 15 caution flags, shattered cars and broken dreams all over the smooth-as-glass surface.

When you add in the cautions from May's Coca-Cola 600, it makes 37 cautions and about that same number of wrecked race cars.

The thing about this is, everyone tried to the best of their combined abilities to make the race work. Humpy Wheeler, as visionary a man as there has ever been in motorsports, tried to take the bumps out of the his race track by using a proven system. Goodyear tried to match a tire to that surface, and the drivers, God bless 'em, did what drivers have done since the first wheel turned: they gassed it up and raced.

Amid the finger-pointing and recriminations tossed about after the race was (mercifully) over, you have to remember that nobody was looking to screw this race up. That it wound up screwed isn't anyone's fault, just a product of the conditions.

The Busch race the night before might have provided a clue as to what could be expected, but the best guess anyone could make was that the Cup cars wouldn't have the same problems. They have an inch less spoiler than do the Busch cars, which means they aren't making as much downforce in the rear. That should have let some slippage happen and eased up on the twisting that popped so many tires.

But it didn't. Race tires are tough, but they aren't indestructible. When you twist them, they heat up. When they heat up, they pop, just like a balloon. That's essentially what happened here.

We've seen tire problems before-at Pocono, for one. That led to a NASCAR rule limiting the amount of camber teams were allowed to use in their setups. Most of the problems last week were with right front and right rear, and rear camber might have helped solve some of the troubles seen at Lowe's.

It's a classic case of the law of unintended circumstances.

By the time we reconvene at Lowe's in May, the track will have been repaved, according to Wheeler. The reason Wheeler levigated in the first place was to avoid paving, because new pavement needs a few races to cure and allow a second groove. Can you say one-groove, follow-the-leader, hard-to-pass racing?

Again, it’s the law of unintended circumstances.

As for Saturday night, Kevin Harvick had the right idea after crashing out. Asked what could be done to fix the situation, Harvick gave his trademark sneer and quipped, "throw the checkered flag and get the hell out of here."

Until next year, that's about all they can do.

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