NASCAR changes are felt at the finish line

By Stephen Hawkins
Associated Press / April 18, 2010

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FORT WORTH — Double-file restarts and the chance for multiple attempts at green-white-checkered finishes are certainly changing the end of NASCAR races and late-race strategy.

Or is it even strategy anymore?

“It’s a crapshoot,’’ Kyle Busch said.

Going into today’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, four of the seven Cup races this season have already gone to NASCAR’s version of overtime with extra laps. Two of those included multiple restarts after the scheduled final lap.

“It has really made finishes less predictable,’’ four-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said. “I don’t know if there really even is a strategy now. It’s more what the masses do.’’

The problem this weekend could be getting the race started, with rain in the forecast. Cup practice was canceled because of rain yesterday, a day after Tony Stewart earned his first pole in five years for what will be his 400th career start.

When Busch pulled onto pit road last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway during another late caution — the only thing that could thwart his dominating run — he got four tires.

So did Johnson, with crew chief Chad Knaus figuring the odds were good that there would be more than one try for a green-white-checkered finish.

Except six cars that took only two tires beat Johnson and Busch out of the pits, then only one restart was needed. Johnson moved up to third in that final two-lap shootout while Busch remained eighth.

Had there been another caution, there could have been up to two more green-white-checkered attempts since NASCAR before this season increased the number of possible retries to three. That would have put Johnson and Busch back into contention for a victory.

If Busch and Johnson had come out of the pits still in front, the No. 18 Toyota and No. 48 Chevrolet would have restarted side-by-side with the double-file system implemented midway through last season.

Adding to those changes already in place, the spoiler effect is likely to come into play in Texas.

Even though the rear spoiler replaced the wing on the back of the cars two weeks ago, the biggest change at smaller tracks was the more traditional look.

The spoiler had minimal impact on racing at the 0.526-mile Martinsville track or even the mile-long Phoenix International Raceway.

But that could be much different at the 1 1/2-mile high-banked Texas track that is one of the Cup circuit’s fastest.

“If we have a great race, if we have a poor race, there’s going to be a determination that the spoiler was really good or the spoiler was really bad,’’ said Jeff Burton.

Samsung Mobile 500
What: NASCAR Sprint Cup race
When: Today, 3 p.m.
Where: Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth
TV: Ch. 25