Texas 500 Qualifying Postponed
Apr. 04, 1998
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ Another day, another major problem at the Texas Motor Speedway.
This time, it was water seeping from under the track in turn one that caused qualifying for Sunday's Winston Cup Texas 500 to be delayed until Saturday.
There were a dozen wrecks Friday as Winston Cup and Busch Grand National drivers practiced, then qualified. The water wasn't believed to be a factor until the final two, by Derrike Cope and Lake Speed, during the seventh and ninth Cup qualifying attempts.
What makes the problem so bizarre is that the sun was shining all day. Only TMS _ where one thing seems to go wrong after another _ could have a rain delay without any rain.
``We absolutely hate it and regret it, but this is where we're at,'' track general manager Eddie Gossage said. ``We would do anything to avoid this.''
TMS was chastised last year for being a one-groove track with a tight, dangerous fourth turn. Officials spent $517,000 to make the turn's exit wider and smoother, only to hear Thursday that a bump midway through the turn was causing cars to bottom out.
Gossage said that Friday's water problem probably was caused by a suction from the cars, pulling moisture up through the asphalt. Sunshine had evaporated the water, but once shadows covered the track, that defense was gone.
``As soon as the sun went down is when everybody started having problems,'' driver Joe Nemechek said.
Another twist is that the water wasn't actually on the surface, but just below it.
``If you went down there with tissue paper right now and put it on the pavement and left it there for five minutes, then picked it up, it wouldn't be wet,'' Gossage said. ``But it is wet.''
Water on the track became a problem for the first time in February, but Gossage said he believed it had been fixed through the addition of an extensive draining system.
``We haven't seen this for a week or 10 days, and that was when we (decided to) put in the French drains,'' Gossage said. ``We thought the French drains had resolved the issue, but I guess not.''
Both Speed and Cope had problems in Turn one.
``There was really no way to avoid it,'' Speed said. ``The car just slipped right under me and there was nothing I could do.''
Speed's wipeout prompted NASCAR and speedway officials to examine whether to continue. About an hour later, they decided to call it a day, disappointing more than 20,000 fans.
``The last two cars that ran ... it looked like there was something coming off the left rear tire,'' said Rusty Wallace, the next-scheduled driver. ``I went down and looked and there was water coming out of the race track.''
The plan had been for the first 25 spots for Sunday's Texas 500 to be set Friday and rest filled Saturday. Now, all 43 spots will be set Saturday.
The nine drivers who ran Friday will not get another chance on Saturday per NASCAR rules used at every event, spokesman Jeff Motley said. That includes Cope and Speed.
``The entry blank says, `In the event of rain or unforeseen circumstances ... you get only one try at first-round qualifying,' '' Motley said. ``We went over the entry blank and we went through the rule book and that's the way it reads.''
After nine qualifiers, Dale Jarrett was in the lead at 29.384 seconds (183.773 mph), followed by Johnny Benson and Jimmy Spencer.
Jarrett started on the pole at last year's TMS Cup event, then known as the Interstate Batteries 500, because rain forced qualifying to be canceled and the starting order was set by point standings.
Gossage smiled when he said that Wallace, the current points leader, suggested that method be used again.