Qualifying changes expected for '05

DARLINGTON, S.C. -- A new post-qualifying procedure designed to save money and significantly alter racing weekends will begin next season in NASCAR.

Car owner Jack Roush said he and his crew chiefs were briefed on
the measures Saturday at Darlington Raceway. NASCAR is expected to
announce the plans this week.

Under the plan, qualifying would be moved from Friday to
Saturday, then the cars would be impounded. They would then line up
Sundays with no tire, gear or shock absorber changes.

NASCAR chairman Brian France said the plans are still under
consideration. If implemented, France said "time is the cost
they'll be helping teams save.''

Roush said it was a "watershed'' change for Nextel Cup.

"I think it will save the teams money. I think it will result
in at least as good if not more exciting racing and we'll look back
at it after we've done it for a while like, 'Wow, why had we done
it any other way,' " he said. "It's all good news.''

Another part of the plan calls for allowing teams two days of
preseason testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and California
Speedway while being charged for only one test.

Las Vegas will be open from Jan. 31-Feb. 2. California Speedway
will be available Feb. 1-3.

"This is good,'' driver Kyle Petty said. "Instead of going to
Vegas and then going to California, you get those two off the

The traditional pair of 45-minute Saturday practice sessions,
called "Happy Hour,'' will be eliminated. Nextel Cup teams will
run two hours of practice laps on Fridays.

After impoundment, any work on cars would have to be approved by
NASCAR and only for special circumstances. One benefit is that
overworked Nextel Cup teams would get some rest on Saturday
afternoons. Another would come in the wallets of race teams, saving
money on practice tires and special parts.

Not addressed in the plan is an idea to guarantee starting spots
to the 35-or-so Nextel Cup teams that compete each week. The
concept, discussed all weekend in Darlington Raceway's garage area,
would leave seven or eight spots open in the 43-car field for
part-time teams.

The idea came up after Scott Wimmer and Scott Riggs, both
full-time racers, did not make the Atlanta lineup two weeks ago.

Petty says such a move would give sponsors peace of mind knowing
their racers would be in the lineup and plan for corporate outings
and appearances.

"They have to do something like that along with the impound
because if not guys would show up and do nothing but practice for
qualifying,'' Petty said. "The top 35 thing protects people that
pull to all the races this year.''

Lady's fate uncertain
Darlington Raceway leaders did not get to use the
words they wanted so much to say -- Southern 500 sellout.

Track president Chris Browning welcomed a near-capacity crowd to
the famed "Lady in Black'' for the 55th and, for now, final
running. Browning had hoped a second-straight full house -- the last
Labor Day weekend event in 2003 was Darlington's first sellout in
six years -- would mean he could push for additional improvements to
the aging facility.

Track VP Mac Josey thought Darlington was only a few hundred
short of capacity.

Darlington's Nextel Cup future was cut in half for 2005. Its
only date will come on Mother's Day weekend next year when it holds
the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 under its new multimillion dollar
lighting system.

Jimmie Johnson swept Darlington's two races this year, finishing
under the lights Sunday to win the Southern 500.

NASCAR chairman Brian France knows it's painful for longtime
fans to lose a tradition like the Southern 500. But he says NASCAR
officials think next year's Saturday night Nextel Cup race could be
a winner. "They are hopeful, as are we, that it's going to be a
positive event in '05 for us to see how it goes,'' France said.

Honored trio
Charlotte track president H.A. "Humpy''
Wheeler, driver Tim Richmond and crew chief Harry Hyde were
inducted Saturday night into the National Motorsports Press
Association Hall of Fame.

Wheeler, known as the P.T. Barnum of racing for his epic
promotions at Lowe's Motor Speedway, accepted the honor, while
Richmond and Hyde, the inspiration for the two main characters in
the move "Days of Thunder,'' were inducted posthumously.

Nothing to see here
Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick say they
laughed off last week's altercation after the race at Phoenix
International Raceway.

NASCAR chairman Brian France didn't think it was so funny.

Moments after the Checker Auto Parts 500 ended Nov. 7, Harvick
and Kahne ran into each other on pit road and stopped. Harvick
jumped from his car and leaned into Kahne's cockpit, gesturing and
talking before being shooed back to his own car.

NASCAR fined Kahne and Harvick $10,000 each and placed them on
probation for the rest of the season.

"It was right at pit road, clogging pit road. That could have
been a mess,'' France said. "It's OK to give somebody an opinion
and do it in a way that's aggressive. But when you start to block
people in, charge into their space, that can escalate and we wanted
to make sure to bring that down.''