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Notebook: NASCAR overhauling impound rules

| Saturday, Nov. 19, 2005

NASCAR is overhauling its impound rules. The procedures were implemented for Nextel Cup races this season as a cost-cutting move and were used at more than half of the events. An impound weekend typically featured Friday practice, Saturday qualifying and a Sunday race. Following qualifying, cars were impounded and could not be altered until the race without penalty. Teams that opted to work on their cars before the race were forced to start at the back of the field. At non-impound races, cars could be worked on after qualifying and before the race.

"This all boiled down to the balance between the show -- the garage area -- and the race tracks," NASCAR president Mike Helton said Friday, two days before the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "It just didn't fit right for right now."

The offseason change relieved teams from the need to have race and qualifying setups on cars. NASCAR officials had announced plans to use the current impound procedures for most of the 2006 Cup schedule. But the sudden impound changes are likely related to the ongoing negotiations between NASCAR and its television partners. NASCAR's current TV contracts expire at the end of the 2006 season, and it has been in negotiations with several networks on a new deal. The networks in negotiations, particularly ESPN, have indicated a desire for increased on-track activity that could be broadcast.

"In the overall scheme of things, it didn't fit the way we thought it would right now," Helton said. "We just wanted to back off that and take a look at it from a different angle. We just haven't found the right balance yet."

  • Ken Schrader will replace retiring driver Ricky Rudd in the Wood Brothers' No. 21 Ford next season. Schrader, 50, spent the last three years driving the No. 49 Dodge for BAM Racing.

    "Three years ago, I thought that 2005 could be my last season," Schrader said. "However, when the opportunity to drive for the Wood Brothers presented itself, it made my decision to continue driving in the Nextel Cup Series very easy."

    BAM Racing replaced Schrader with rookie Brent Sherman, who has no Nextel Cup experience.

    "He has shown a lot of talent and a great deal of potential, and we think he has a bright future ahead of him in NASCAR Nextel Cup racing," car owner Beth Ann Morgenthau said. "We're happy that future will begin next season with BAM Racing."

    Sherman finished second to Frank Kimmel for the 2004 ARCA championship. This season, the 31-year-old Sherman competed in 26 NASCAR Busch Series events with a pair of different teams and one top 10 finish.

    "Probably the most difficult lesson for a young driver to learn is how to finish races, and Brent has already shown that ability," Morgenthau said. "The fact he has failed to finish just three Busch races this season, and all three due to things beyond his control, wasn't lost on us. He loves to go fast and does that well. Those factors, plus the fact he is such a nice young man, really have us excited about the 2006 season."

  • Veteran driver Kenny Wallace replaced reigning Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch in the No. 97 Ford last week on short notice. Wallace finished 16th in place of Busch, who was suspended by Roush Racing for the final two races of the season after a run-in with Phoenix police two nights before the race. Now, with a full week of preparation, Wallace expects better results.

    "My goal is a top 10," Wallace said. "I'm not trying to sit on the pole and bite off too much. I don't have that much pressure on myself. What I want to do is have a good showing and run real competitive, but a top 10 is my goal."

    Wallace, a younger brother of longtime NASCAR star Rusty Wallace, has 309 Cup starts with 27 top 10s, the last one at Bristol in 2003 while driving for Bill Davis Racing.

  • Don't call the No. 12 Dodge that Ryan Newman is driving this weekend an Intrepid, even though its a year-old body style. The templates for the old cars are good through the end of 2006.

    "It's a Dodge," said Don Miller, president of Penske Racing South. "Dodge isn't making Intrepids any more."

    This year's NASCAR Dodge is the Charger, but Newman and Evernham Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne both are driving the year-old models in Sunday's season-ending Ford 400 Nextel Cup race.

    "We've had trouble all year long with our (new) Dodges on the mile and a half tracks like Homestead," Miller said. "They are real pitch sensitive at certain speeds in certain circumstances. When you go to pass someone, dart under them, it's liable to go anywhere. We tried the 2004 and it doesn't do any of those things."

    Miller said he hopes the problem can be solved over the winter. "We're trying to resubmit a nose for 2006, and NASCAR's working with us," he said.

  • Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Eddie Wood has something special planned for Ricky Rudd's final race. Rudd is retiring at the end of this season, making the Ford 400 his last race after a 31-year NASCAR career. Team members wrote messages and signed their names underneath the hood and the trunk lid of Rudd's No. 21 Ford, and Wood planned to present them to Rudd after the race.

    "Hopefully, it'll be in one piece," Wood joked. Wood also said he thought the goodbye was only temporary. "I really hate to see him retire," Wood said. "I'm not even going to use that word -- retire. Ricky's going to take some time off, but I don't think you've seen the last of Ricky Rudd yet."

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