Rule change leaves some fuming going into today's Pepsi 400

Sunday, August 18, 2002

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- When NASCAR decided to give aerodynamic aid to Chevrolets and Pontiacs, the sanctioning body promised to re-evaluate the decision after today's Pepsi 400.

But some already are complaining about the sanctioning body's decision last weekend to allow the GM teams to move their front air dams forward for this race at Michigan International Speedway. Dale Earnhardt Jr. led a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots in qualifying, posting a lap of 189.668 mph Friday that raised the ire of the Dodge and Ford camps.

"We clearly don't have a level playing field for all manufacturers," said Jim Julow, vice president for Dodge Motorsports. "But we've showed that we know how to run on the flat tracks this season and proved we know how to win at Michigan, so we'll just have to work twice as hard."

The Chevys were permitted to move the dams below the front bumpers forward by an inch. Pontiacs got just a half-inch, and Bobby Labonte qualified 11th in the fastest Grand Prix.

Bill Elliott, driving the No. 9 Dodge for Evernham Motorsports, has won two of the past three races. He qualified sixth here, the first non-Chevy in the field, and teammate Jeremy Mayfield put the No. 19 in seventh.

"I'd like to congratulate Ray Evernham for putting the No. 9 and No. 19 ... on the front row of the non-Chevy segment," Julow joked.

Kevin Harvick will start second, followed by Earnhardt's teammates, Michael Waltrip and Steve Park. Robby Gordon, Harvick's teammate, will go from the fifth spot in the 43-car field.

None of them noticed much of a difference in qualifying. Waltrip started second and finished fourth here in June. Earnhardt was third on the grid for that race.

"We've qualified great here every time, so I don't think it's had a huge effect on us," Earnhardt said. "Sunday is going to be a different day."

Practice speeds Saturday seemed to validate Earnhardt's argument. Ryan Newman ran the fastest overall lap in a Ford, and Tony Stewart's Pontiac led the second of two sessions.

Earnhardt was 10th in the final practice, and Waltrip was eighth.

"What you need to look at is whether the Chevys are able to hang with the Dodges and the Fords 30 or 40 laps into a run," Waltrip said. "If they are, that's cool."

In 22 races, Chevrolet has five victories, including two by rookie Jimmie Johnson. His teammate, Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, is fifth in the standings despite a 30-race losing streak.

BUSCH SERIES: Michael Waltrip held off a strong challenge from Todd Bodine before pulling away to win the NASCAR Busch series race at Michigan International Speedway.

The victory in the Cabela's 250 was the ninth in Busch competition for Winston Cup driver Waltrip, and his first since October 1999.

"It's a lot of fun when you win," Waltrip said.

Jeff Burton finished second, nearly 4 seconds back, and Jeff Green edged Bodine for third to give Winston Cup drivers a sweep of the top four spots.

Bodine, in a Chevrolet, appeared to have the fastest car for most of 125-lap race but dropped to 10th after a four-tire pit stop on lap 79 during the fourth caution. Waltrip, who changed just two tires on his Chevy during that caution, took the lead from Joe Nemechek with 38 laps to go and began pulling away.

Bobby Hamilton Jr. finished fifth, followed by Scott Riggs, Scott Wimmer, Stacy Compton, Jimmy Spencer and Kasey Kahne.

-- From wire reports

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