Sunday, June 23, 2002

Newly configured course confuses drivers

Associated Press Writer

        SONOMA, Calif. — The newly named Infineon Raceway's $50 million facelift has robbed drivers of familiar navigational landmarks — a guardrail where they brake and a flag point where they gun it.

        Polesitter Tony Stewart used a pedestrian bridge as a gauge when he won a year ago at the track formerly knows as Sears Point Raceway.

        “The bridge was gone,” he said after Friday's practice. “I about drove off the race course the first hard lap through there. I was like, "Where is my bridge at?”'

        The pedestrian bridge across the track — now a pedestrian tunnel — is among the changes the drivers who didn't test at Sears Point had two hours of practice time to adapt to before Sunday's Dodge-Save Mart 350 Winston Cup race.

        The course changed its name on Saturday, reflecting its affiliation with German semiconductor manufacturer Infineon Technologies.

        “In two hours, there's no time to do anything except run around and make sure you're shifting at the right point and pray that you get a good qualifying lap,” Kurt Busch said.

        Busch will start next to Stewart on Sunday, followed by Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bill Elliott and Matt Kenseth. Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace, Robby Gordon and Boris Said complete the top 10.

        Stewart said his was as good here as it was last June.

        “It's just a matter of me getting used to the new configuration,” he said. “The rest of it was all scenery changes and it was hard to find braking points.”

        The track spent more than $50 million over the past two years on hillside terrace seats, a towering grandstand and reconfiguration of a couple of turns on the serpentine course.

        Wallace said he wishes they had left most of the track like the one he won on in 1990 and 1996.

        “They keep trying to recreate it by putting in 90-degree turns, but it just hasn't happened yet,” he said.

        Chassis adjustments on his Ford helped in some spots, but hurt in others.

        “It's a little bit different on the setup, but the visuals are what the deal is,” Wallace said. “I was so busy in qualifying ... it was one of those deals where you've driven home and don't remember driving home.”

        Sunday's drive will cover 112 laps, or 224 miles on the 2-mile track.


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