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Saturday, April 21
Many using HANS for bigger tracks
Associated Press

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The majority of drivers in the 43-car field for the Talladega 500 will be wearing some form of head and neck restraint.

A count by NASCAR officials before the final practice for Sunday's race showed that 24 drivers plan to wear the much-discussed Head and Neck Support (HANS) device, with nine using several other forms of upper body and head restraint.

Only 10 drivers, including front-row starters Stacy Compton and Sterling Marlin, will race without any device

Some believe the deaths of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper and Dale Earnhardt in stock car crashes over a 10-month period might have been prevented if they had been using one of the restraint systems along with their regular safety belt harness. All but Roper, who had a massive neck injury, died of skull fractures, with severe whiplash a major factor.

Compton isn't totally against using the restraints, and he has tried the HANS. But, at 6-foot-2, he has found the horsecollar-like contraption too restrictive.

"When I had it on, I had to lean forward the entire time to fit into it," Compton said. "Over a three-hour race, that's not going to work."

Other drivers also found them uncomfortable but have chosen to find a way to make them work.

"I used it at Texas (on April 1) and it was OK, but my shoulders were all bruised up after the race and I was pretty sore," said Jeff Gordon, among the drivers who will wear the HANS on Sunday. "When I first put one on, it wasn't even close. But we got one custom fitted and I won't race on a big track without it."

He says the drivers are becoming more comfortable with the HANS.

"I tested it in Atlanta last week and I wore it all through the test. There's just common knowledge at certain places that you just better have it. You better have something to slow down that motion."

NASCAR has resisted an outcry to make head and neck restraints mandatory, saying it's up to the individual drivers and teams to make that decision.

Coming back
Geoffrey Bodine hopes to begin a comeback next month in Concord, N.C.

The 51-year-old Bodine plans to drive a second car for the team run by brother Brett in the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He hopes that will lead to a full-time ride with Brett or someone else.

"Some people think I'm nuts to come back to drive, but I still have the need for speed," said Bodine, who has 18 Winston Cup victories -- including the 1986 Daytona 500.

He was injured in a crash during a truck race at Daytona in February 2000 and came back 2½ months later to drive a Winston Cup car for Joe Bessey. But Bodine was fired in September after driving in only 12 races without a top-10 finish.

"Now I realize when I came back to racing last year, I wasn't really ready for it," Bodine said. "Now I feel so good, I believe I can go back to racing like I used to.

"I want to drive for a few more years. Of course, you can't race forever, but I want to work with a team after my driving days are done."

Fast guy
Bill Elliott set the all-time stock car qualifying record of 212.809 mph in April 1987.

He says it's mind-boggling to think about how fast the cars might be at Talladega Superspeedway without the engine restrictions that NASCAR began requiring shortly after Elliott's sizzling qualifying effort.

"I don't have any idea what we'd be running without restrictor plates," said the man who used to be known as "Awesome Bill." You might be running 200 with all the power we've got and all we know about aero."

The plates have done the job slowing the stock cars down, with Stacy Compton winning the pole for Sunday's race at 184.681 mph - the slowest pole speed in Talladega's 32-year history.

"Right now, it's like you're on cruise control," Elliott said.

Found money
Shawna Robinson's plan to begin working her way into the Winston Cup series with a limited schedule this season got a boost Saturday when it was announced that Aaron's Sales and Lease Ownership will sponsor her Ford in four of six planned races.

Ken Butler, president of the Atlanta-based company that sells and leases furniture and appliances, said, "She has worked her whole adult life to get to this level and has proven her potential in the Busch Grand National Series and ARCA series.This is an absolute natural. We're fulfilling Shawna's dream and our dream of going Winston Cup racing."

Robinson will attempt to qualify a Michael Kranefuss-owned Taurus for next Sunday's NAPA 500 at California Speedway. She would be the first woman to compete in a Winston Cup race in nearly 12 years, and hopes to become the first female in more than 20 years to run more than a handful of races.

Spark plugs
  • Kyle Petty failed to qualify for Sunday's race and now has failed to make the lineup for four of the nine races this season.

  • Series points leader Dale Jarrett has finished third or better, including a win in October 1998, in seven of the last 11 races here.

  • The last four Talladega races have been won by drivers starting 17th or lower.

  • The late Dale Earnhardt leads all drivers with 10 Talladega victories. No other driver has more than four wins here. Earnhardt also leads all drivers with 11 restrictor-plate wins. Jeff Gordon is next with six, followed by Sterling Marlin and Dale Jarrett with five apiece.

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