Sunday, June 24, 2007
NASCAR determined to police Car of Tomorrow.
SONOMA, Calif. -- NASCAR is determined to take any guesswork
out of its new Car of Tomorrow.
With a new system of templates and sensors to measure the
parameters of the taller, wider and reputedly safer car, NASCAR
chairman Brian France said the sanctioning organization wants to
leave no doubt that it will come down hard on infractions.
"We have to lay down the law," France said Sunday at Infineon
Raceway, where the Nextel Cup cars raced in the Toyota/Save Mart
That doesn't bode well for the teams of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie
Johnson, who were parked for Friday's practice and qualifying after
NASCAR inspectors found front fenders on their COT Chevrolets had
been illegally modified.
The two Hendrick Motorsports drivers were allowed to practice
Saturday and race Sunday, starting from the rear of the field, but
it is expected that NASCAR will follow up in the next few days with
more severe penalties, possibly including the loss of drivers and
owner points, six-figure fines and suspensions for the crew chiefs.
Asked if NASCAR is taking all the creativity away from the
teams, France said, "There will always be room for imagination and
ingenuity in the sport. But we don't want this thing to revolve
around technology. It's important to keep it in the hands of the
Gordon drove a great strategic race Sunday and wound up seventh.
He leads Denny Hamlin, who finished 10th, by 271 points. Johnson
was 17th and remained third in the standings, 366 points behind his
"It was a great run," Gordon said. "I thought (crew chief)
Steve Letarte and everyone on our team just called this race
perfectly to come from that far back to a top 10. We played the
(pit) strategy the best way we possibly could and we had some
cautions fall our way, which was some good fortune for us to gain
Johnson, the reigning Cup champion, wasn't as happy.
"I think I was in the wrong gear on pit road and that ended up
costing us track position, which ended up costing us from getting
up in the top 10," he said. "I think we had the speed. We just,
unfortunately, didn't get up as high in the finishing order as we
Looking ahead to the probable penalties from NASCAR, Gordon
said, "What happened to us on Friday was huge. I think it had a
trickle-down affect through this garage area that they are coming
down hard on this type of infraction. All of us are blown away and
we don't know what's coming next.
"We are at the mercy of NASCAR and I hope they are light on us,
but who knows."<
COT ON TRACK: Sunday's race is the road-course debut of the Car
of Tomorrow and the drivers were generally pleased with the result.
Third-place finisher Jeff Burton said he wasn't surprised that
the new car, which had only six previous Cup starts, all on ovals,
did a good job at Infineon Raceway. But he noted there's still a
lot of development work to do.
"You know, it has its problems, there's no question," he said.
"It's not a perfect car. But this car is proving to be pretty
resilient. All of the problems (are) because it's a brand new
piece. But, all in all, especially considering how new it is, it's
"My car was really pretty good," said Greg Biffle, who
finished fifth. "But it was a lot different.
"The (COT) is a lot more top heavy and it's a little harder to
get slowed down because it wants to pick the inside up all the
time, whichever one it is depending on the way you're turning. So
you need to be real careful about not skidding the tire.
"It really, really looked like it was very hard to pass here
today," Biffle said.<
FUEL FAILURE: Robby Gordon started second and led a race-high 48
laps, including the first 34 on the 1.99-mile, 12-turn circuit. But
he wound up 16th after his team's fuel strategy let him down late
in the race.
"It's pretty disappointing that fuel strategy makes that big of
a difference," Gordon said. "It's disappointing that we had a car
as fast as we had, started on the front row and not just get beat
but finish 16th.
"We need to figure out why we're getting a quarter of a gallon
less fuel mileage than the other guys."<
KEY RECEIVER: NFL Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice was feeling
the pressure Sunday morning.
Named the Grand Marshall for the race, Rice, who caught so many
clutch passes in tight situations during his football career, was
nervous about delivering the traditional "Gentlemen, start your
"I'm truly just looking forward to the race right now and
saying those four famous words," Rice said. "I have brought out
so many coaches to work with me, I don't want to blow this. I have
so many guys depending on me."
On a more serious note, Rice said he was enjoying meeting some
of the drivers this week, particularly Gordon, whose wife, Ingrid,
gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter named Ella Sofia
Gordon, last Wednesday.
"He had a beautiful little girl," Rice said. "For someone
that you would think would have been a little frustrated because he
couldn't get on track (Friday), he was very relaxed. I think it
just shows his confidence and that he really believes in himself."
Gordon told Rice he was a San Francisco 49ers fan.
"He said he has a helmet with my signature and (Joe)
Montana's," Rice said. "That's from way back in the day right
there. We just talked and had a great time."<
SPARKPLUGS: Juan Pablo Montoya is the third foreign-born driver
to win a race in NASCAR's top series. The Colombian driver joined
Italian-born Mario Andretti, who won the 1967 Daytona 500, and Earl
Ross of Canada, who won on the short oval at Martinsville in 1974.
... Montoya also joins Andretti and Dan Gurney as the only drivers
who have won races in NASCAR, Formula One and American open-wheel
racing. ... A crowd estimated at more than 100,000 turned out
Sunday, a clear, breezy day with temperatures reaching into the