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Loudon: a very unpredictable race ahead...but probably a Rick Hendrick Chevy will wind up in victory lane

Tony Stewart sends his backup Chevrolet through NASCAR's inspection bay (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Eight races, eight different winners.
   Nope, this place.
   Greg Biffle last fall. Kurt Busch last spring, in a rainy day gamble. Clint Bowyer. Denny Hamlin. Kevin Harvick. Kyle Busch. Ryan Newman. Tony Stewart.
   "I think it is because track position and pit strategy plays out so much here that, you'll get guys that take some big risks," Jeff Gordon says.
   "Obviously last year here, Kurt Busch took a big risk by staying out when it rained, and that paid for them. Then you have seen guys take two tires, no tires…you just see so many different strategies that have paid off here.
    "The fastest car doesn't always win at a track like this.
    "It is more true here than other places because it is tough to pass. With the aerodynamics, especially with this car, being out front is huge."
   NASCAR didn't waste much time cancelling qualifying Friday afternoon after a storm rolled through, putting Stewart and Gordon on the front row for Sunday's Lenox 301, with the starting lineup set, for the third time this season, by rainy day rules.
   NASCAR's quickness may have been curious, considering the sun was out and the track was dry by 4:30 p.m., with sunset not due till 8:30 p.m.
   So Chevy will have the front row.
   And Detroit – the GM and Chrysler problems – was also front row here, with questions swirling around the Richard Petty camp, and with Detroit sources saying that one major NASCAR Chevrolet Nationwide operation, just getting a major budget cut from General Motors, has now made overtures to Toyota about a possible switch.
    The general chaos in the GM-NASCAR camp, since bankruptcy was announced earlier this month, has been a major story in the garage. And Rick Hendrick's surprise, and very prominent, appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show last month has some looking at the mega-team owner as one of the few 'politically correct' people in this sport right now, given Winfrey's close ties with President Obama.
    How the GM-Chevy-NASCAR thing all plays out is unclear, but there are numerous aspects that are quite unsettling.
   But apparently Hendrick has his ducks all in a row: three of his own four drivers (Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin) are in the top-12, and his two satellite engineering operations, with Stewart and Ryan Newman, are first and sixth in the Sprint Cup standings.
    Three weeks ago Stewart crashed at Pocono and had to start last, and he rallied to win. He ran seventh at Michigan, and followed with a second-place finish at Sonoma.
   So Stewart still looks like a Sunday contender here, despite having to run a backup. He and Mark Martin each spun and crashed in separate incidents early in Friday practice.
   Both men said their cars just "snapped around" on them, Stewart in turn four, Martin in turn two, ironically at the same time.
   Stewart switched to a backup, while Martin's crew repaired his primary. Since the incident occurred before qualifying was to take place, and since Stewart put his original engine in the new car, he will not have to go to the rear of the field for Sunday's 2 p.m. start.
   Stewart won Pocono two weeks ago after having to start at the rear of the field after crashing in Saturday practice, after qualifying.
   It is unclear if braking might be an issue, but brakes are critical here, even more so than at Martinsville, where braking is a notorious issue.
   According to Brembo brake engineers, drivers are on the brakes longer in the corners here – more than five seconds – than anywhere else on the tour. On a brake-difficulty scale of 1-10, Martinsville rates a nine, Richmond an 8.5 and Loudon an 8.0.
    "I just got loose going in the corner," Stewart said. "Goodyear came down and was worried, but it wasn't a tire problem. I just got loose, and once I got out of the groove I was staying right with it. I just needed another 50 feet to finish getting it gathered up, and I just ran out of race track.
    "I have the upmost confidence we can recover from this."
    Gordon could have something of an edge here, since he did the Goodyear tire test, though he downplays that: "It was 50 degrees or less outside…We weren't expecting to come back here and really be able to utilize the information from that test.
   "We knew the track was going to have less grip today obviously with the temperatures (in the 70s). It was quite a big difference.
    "There isn't a whole lot that we gained from the test."

Bringing back a previous

Bringing back a previous topic on account of another rainout of Sprint Cup Qualifying.

Eleven Go or Go Homers arrived at New Hampshire and 3 teams were sent home Friday with no opportunity to qualify. One team, 64 Gunselman may have received some "consideration" from Furniture Row to withdraw and let the 78 car race. That's OK. Good ol' American Capitalism at work. Nothing wrong with that.

But NASCAR, take off the blinders. Give all of the GGH teams a chance. 35 cars are locked in so they don't have to qualify, but the GGH teams do.

The Nationwide cars qualify on Saturday morning. Run Sprint Cup GGH qualifying (for places 36-43) right after Nationwide qualifying. With 11 cars that amounts to about 35 minutes of track time at NHMS. Thirty five minutes!!! To send these teams home with nothing, not even a shot at getting into the field after expending many thousands of dollars to get to the track doesn't make sense. The race is Sunday, not Friday night. This continued inaction by NASCAR won't build stronger start-up teams. It'll lead to more former start-up teams.

i agree with you -- and there

i agree with you -- and there was plenty of time for nascar to get in qualifying friday; the rain blew through, the sun came out, and there was about four of sunshine till sunset. run the GGH teams first, yes. but those are guys who have no political clout, or sponsorship clout.

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