NASCAR & Auto Racing

Sprint Cup qualifying on tap Thursday night at Phoenix

Some midweek observations on motorsports from The Charlotte Observer's David Poole:

Observations

 It's amazing how rapidly the new drag strip at Lowe's Motor Speedway is coming out of the ground. But maybe not. The story goes that a project manager was asked by a television reporter what might happen if it's not done on time. He replied by asking, "Are you guys hiring?"

 One nugget worth noting in Wednesday's first-quarter earnings report from International Speedway Corp., was that the company got $1.79 million in equity income from Motorsports Authentics, the merchandising company in which ISC and Speedway Motorsports share 50-50 ownership. One year ago, ISC suffered a loss of $4.32 million in the first quarter through that same company.

My 2 Cents

Aaron Fike was banished from NASCAR in July after being arrested with his fiancée in the parking lot of an Ohio amusement park for possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia.

This week, in his first major interview since that arrest, he gave Ryan McGee of ESPN The Magazine details of how he went from a prescription for pain killers for injuries suffered during a sprint car crash six years ago to obtaining drugs illegally from a Charlotte supplier.

That supplier, Fike said, was the first to suggest heroin. "I know it sounds weird," Fike said. "But I trusted the guy."

Fike got two years probation and is working for his father while racing sprint cars on the weekends. He's speaking out now, he says, to point out that NASCAR's policy on drug testing isn't working.

NASCAR says it has zero tolerance for banned substances, but it only tests drivers or crew members based on reasonable suspicion. The idea is that since the folks in NASCAR are around each other so much, they can spot changes in behavior.

How did that work in Fike's case? He was on pain killers and then on heroin, and admits that before his arrest he was injecting heroin daily, including on the days he raced. So he was on the track with heroin in his system. If the system allowed that to happen, it's not working.

Briefly

Eschewing the obvious joke about living dangerously, Michael McDowell had another adventure Wednesday in Arizona.McDowell, who escaped injury in a crash Friday in qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway, took a flight in an F-16 Falcon with the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in his home state.

"I used to go to Luke Air Force Base to watch air shows because I am originally from Glendale and the training base is not far from where I grew up," McDowell said.

"To be able to fly in an F-16 Falcon is incredible.

"I thought about whether or not I was going to do it after having my accident, but I feel fine and I don't want to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

 Not to get too far ahead of things, but fans in the Carolinas are just more than a week away from a big weekend of activity.

The Dirt Track @ Lowe's Motor Speedway will host the third Colossal 100 on April 18-19, with dirt short-track drivers from all over the country coming in to compete for spots in the 100-lap feature.

That same weekend, beginning Friday and concluding on Sunday, the International Hot Rod Association will visit Rockingham Dragway for its annual Spring Nationals.

 Hickory Motor Speedway was about the only track that got any of its racing schedule in last weekend, moving its card to Sunday afternoon when rain wiped out most tracks on Friday and Saturday nights.

Two-time defending track champion Andy Loden got his first Late Model win of 2008. J.R. Allen won in limited late models and Keith Bumgarner won the season's first super trucks race.

News and Notes

Wheeler offers track for Cup test

Lowe's Motor Speedway President H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler said Wednesday he has offered NASCAR at least two days, May 5 and 6, to open his track for Cup teams to test in preparation for the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600."It's our intention to have the best racing possible here and I have always believed that preparation is the key to great racing," Wheeler said. "You can compute, work the post machine and microscope the car until your tools bleed, but nothing, absolutely nothing, is as valuable as track time."

Wheeler said the track would be open from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. on those days. If more testing is needed afterward, dates could be added, he said.

"Logistically, May 5-6 is perfect for the race teams and with a majority of them based in the area, there would be minimal expense for them to come here and test," Wheeler said.

May 5 is the Monday after the Saturday night race at Richmond, Va., and before a Saturday race at Darlington, S.C.

Four teams are scheduled to do a Goodyear tire test at the track on April 22.

"The reality is that everyone needs an opportunity to get on this track, which we all know is very difficult," Wheeler said. "I have spoken with many drivers and crew chiefs about this car and, while there are differences of opinion on what to do, there is no question that more track time is needed.

"The bottom line is that we need to do something now, and we want to work with NASCAR and the teams to make that happen."

Phoenix Cup qualifying Thursday night

It might be Thursday everywhere else, but it's Friday at Phoenix International Raceway today as Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams take to the track.

Nationwide Series teams practice at 1:15 p.m. and again at 8:30 p.m. Cup teams practice at 3:15 p.m. and qualify at 7 p.m. for Saturday night's Subway 500.

Cup teams did get a test at Phoenix after the race at Las Vegas this year. They also ran the new car there twice last year. Jeff Gordon won the first race and Jimmie Johnson won the second in 2007.

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