Sunday, August 31, 2003

Darlington promises to be a rougher ride

The Associated Press

DARLINGTON, S.C. - Drivers who hadn't tested at Darlington Raceway this summer got a surprise when they showed up to practice for today's Southern 500.

The always-difficult 1.366-mile oval was made even tougher when asphalt patch was put down in turns two and four in June.

Five-time Southern 500 winner Jeff Gordon, who didn't test, was upset when he saw the patches, heading straight to the NASCAR hauler to complain to Winston Cup director John Darby.

"It was horrible, ridiculous," Gordon said. "I had no idea it had even been done until I got out on the track for first practice. Now I understand why guys came and tested here."

Gordon acknowledged the track surface was rough last year with pieces of pavement coming up, and that something had to be done.

Terry Labonte, the 1980 Southern 500 winner, said: "It was pretty rough before and the patch is just as rough as it was. I'm not sure exactly why they patched it."

Track spokeswoman Cathy Mock called the patches "regular track maintenance."

Tire wear probably will play a major part in team strategy today.

"I told (my team), 'Well, we don't have to worry about whether to get two tires, four tires, just gas, whatever,' " Labonte said. "You're going to get four tires every time here."

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