Two weeks into NASCAR

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 28, 2005

Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald

If the first two weeks of the 2005 NASCAR season are any indication, the bigwigs in the NASCAR trailer are not going to tolerate any of the track foolishness or rules violations. Just this week, fines totaling $102,000 were handed out to teams found to have bent the rules during the Daytona festivities. To top it off, Ricky Rudd was penalized 25 championship points and despite missing the race, Robby Gordon’s team owner was deducted 25 owner’s points.

We also saw quick responses by NASCAR to on-the-track incidents involving Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart at the end of the Daytona 500 and Kevin Harvick’s wild driving during the second Gatorade Duel race last Thursday. I guess NASCAR is sending a message early that the teams and drivers need to be on their best behavior or the hammer will drop. It would be a shame if a points penalty kept a team from making the chase later in the year.

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It looks like the 2005 season will be a wild and enjoyable ride for those of us who enjoy this crazy sport. The Daytona 500 was a great way to kick off the season and congrats to Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick. It shouldn’t have shocked anyone that the race turned out the way it did, but there were struggling teams that had good showings. Petty Enterprises, an organization that hasn’t won a race since 1999 with John Andretti, placed both entries in the top 20. Kevin Lepage, who surprised many just by making the field, finished ninth and Dave Blaney, in his first year driving for Richard Childress, finished 14th.

Ford announced this week that 2005 will be the last year that the Taurus will be on the track. Beginning next year, Ford drivers will race the Fusion, a smaller version of the new Ford Five Hundred. This is coming on the heels of the introduction of Dodge’s Charger and Chevrolet’s announcement that the Monte Carlo will soon be redesigned.

NASCAR makes the cross-country trip this week from Daytona to Fontana, California for the Auto Club 500. The schedule change to make this the second race of the year should help with the team’s race set up. In years past, Rockingham was the second stop on the schedule, but since NASCAR’s turn toward the larger markets, the track in California was bumped up. This track is a two-mile tri-oval that generates some serious speed. This will be the tenth race at this track since debuting on the circuit in 1997. Jeff Gordon has had the most success there among active drivers with five top-five finishes. He will be strong again this week. Also look for Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson to be contenders for the checkered flag.

However, Kasey Kahne will earn the first win of his career this week. Kahne finished second and 13th in the races in California last year and when you throw in the fact that he also won on the pole in this race last year, he is my pick to win.

Race coverage begins at 2 pm and the green flag drops at 3 pm on the FOX network. Enjoy the race and I’ll see you next week.