California rain moves races to Monday

By Nancy Knapp Schilke -
February 24, 2008

The spectators, who were praised by Tony Stewart during the rain, hung around for the duration of the efforts by the Auto Club (California) Speedway track workers, along with NASCAR officials and staff, to prepare the 2.0-mile oval for today's finish for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race can now head to warmth.

NASCAR officials made the decision shortly after 11:00pm local time (2:00am EST) to move the restart to Monday at 10:00am (1:00pm EST). Rain in California these past three days has played a game of guessing for NASCAR. Every time they made an effort to get on-track, the skies opened up again and again. Last night's Nationwide Series was postponed to follow today's Cup race but what was to have been a three to five hour race became a marathon.

The start, originally scheduled at 1:00pm local time was delayed due to a wet track after Sunday morning race. One underway, it looked good and they thought they would at least make it to the halfway point. Water seeped from underground into the track causing weepers and ended up causing two accidents.

First Denny Hamlin skidded over the wet area and slammed into the Turn 3 wall. "I think we can get back out there, but I think there are 42 other drivers that would agree that we should not be racing on that racetrack right now," Hamlin said. "I hit a slick spot and my car took off. You can see it on television -- right at the seams, it's seeping a lot of water. I hit a wet spot and I'm not going to be the last one."

On lap 20, Casey Mears hit a weeper and a four-car incident took place, bringing out the red flag. Mears' ended up in a soft roll-over, landing on his side. Reed Sorenson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Sam Hornish Jr. were involved; no one was injured.

"There's a lot of weepers in-between the first and second groove. We could have had the jet dryers run until tomorrow and still maybe not get the track dry - and that's if it doesn't rain anymore," said rookie racer Hornish Jr. "I think that NASCAR made the decision that they thought was the best. You had to pick your line going into the corner - you couldn't cross that section. It maybe wasn't the best situation to go racing - but as the cars ran - it was going to get better and better."

After the accident clean-up, NASCAR and the speedway cut groves into the track surface to allow the water to drain, extending the red flag time. After a track inspection, NASCAR deemed the track ready for racing. The restart took place with Jeff Gordon taking back his lead before others moved up and around the No. 24 Chevy and then the rain came.

"It is the same issue we had on Friday, it is just a little bit more," said Gordon after riding around the track with an official prior to the restart. "We have had a lot of rain over the last 24 hours so I think it is a little bit worse right now. I thought after we started racing it might help as the track temperature went up, with the heat from the cars. But it started getting a little bit worse at both end of the tracks. Right now when we came in here, it was the best I have seen it all day. But if that is something that is going to reoccur, they have got to get it fixed."

The race was stopped on lap 87, just past 6:15pm PST and three hours later, the officials still felt they could take control of the track, allowing the race to take the green at approximately 10:00pm which would be 1:00am EST and then they pushed it to one more hour of waiting.

Dampness in the air pushed back the efforts and the track would not be ready for racing action forcing NASCAR's hand. The Cup race will now see a green flag at 10:00am PST Monday with the Nationwide series race to follow.

2007 champion Jimmie Johnson is the current leader followed by Travis Kvapil, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and early race leader Jeff Gordon.

"The car is driving great. I really have to give these guys a lot of credit at Hendrick Motorsports to give us this great driving race car. Both Jeff (Gordon) and I seem real strong. We're just trying to get some miles in," said Johnson. "We saw some water on the track before the race started but things kind of mellowed out but it seems like NASCAR is looking at that a little more closely. But I, like Tony (Stewart) can't believe these West Coast fans for sticking it out."

Fontana: Greg Biffle rain red flag quotes

Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, was running sixth when the race was red-flagged on lap 22.

"You know what? I think the race is going to go, as long as we don't get any rain. I think we're going to be good. But, you just don't know. There's some water coming out of the race track. We'll see."

YOU'VE RUN JUST A FEW LAPS TODAY AND FEW YESTERDAY, BUT IT SEEMS LIKE YOU'VE GOT A PRETTY GOOD CAR? "Yeah, I think we're pretty good, but we just have to get some green-flag laps to see how it turns out. It started getting a little bit tight, shich concerns me a little bit, but we'll just have to wait and see."

WAS THE CAR RUNNING HOT EARLY? "Yeah. These cars are really, really bad about getting stuff on the grill, and my motor is 280 degrees. Lost some water, but it cooled back down, got the stuff of the ground. We'll just have to see."