Car of Tomorrow adds element of uncertainty to Food City 500

Dave Ongie • Mar 25, 2007 at 12:39 PM

BRISTOL, Tenn. - They've tested it, complained about it, tweaked it, fine-tuned it and qualified it. Now it's time to take the Car of Tomorrow racing.

But while Saturday's two practice sessions went off without a hitch, today's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (1:30 p.m., FOX) is another matter entirely.

Testing showed the drivers that the CoT could be driven and qualifying showed them that it could be driven fast - so the last great unknown is how it will respond under racing conditions.

For starters, the drivers are wondering how in the world they're going to pass anybody.

"The way you have to pass is yet to be determined," said Kurt Busch, winner of last year's Food City 500. "If you do the bump and run on somebody, are you going to end up knocking a hole in your front nose because of how big it is?"

The bump and run has been a staple over the years at BMS.

With a single racing groove on the bottom of the track, the main way to get around the car in front has been to ram its rear bumper to loosen it up and drive by on the low side while the other driver struggles to regain control.

But with a front fender that may be more fragile, patience may be quite a virtue when looking to move through the field.

"Do you take extra time when you're trying to pass somebody?" Busch said. "I hope there's a bit more give and take."

Busch will have a chance to practice what he preaches after a poor qualifying run that relegated him to 42nd-place start today.

Like Busch, Matt Kenseth usually runs well at Bristol, but he will start 38th after a slip-up during qualifying. Kenseth didn't even hazard a guess about what the racing at BMS would look like today.

"There are races here that have been pretty darn clean, and then there are races here you've seen that aren't so clean," he said. "You can't really predict what happens here."

Coming off two straight races in which he wrecked, that's not something Kasey Kahne wants to hear as he fights to make his way back into the top 35 in points.

Kahne and others like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle run the risk of falling outside the top 35 and having to qualify on time next week at Martinsville when this year's points kick in.

But a swift lap in qualifying will give Kahne a jump on the field. He will start today's race on the outside of the front row beside polesitter Jeff Gordon.

"Hopefully, luck is on our side and we won't get in anybody else's mess," said Kahne, who sits 36th in points. "Hopefully we come out of here with a top 10 and go into Martinsville."

For Kahne, qualifying well was nothing new; now the focus will be on keeping his car in one piece, something much easier said than done at BMS.

"We've got a good start to hopefully a great race on Sunday," he said. "The car felt good in practice, and we need to keep it off the wall and have no errors by myself or the team."

Kahne's teammate, Elliott Sadler, will start third - giving Ray Evernham Racing a good chance at having a big day at Bristol. But Sadler isn't getting too excited until he gets in a few laps in the CoT with a few of his closest friends.

"We've tested it and tested it, but until it gets in race conditions against 42 other guys, you don't really know," Sadler said.

It's hard to say who will rise up and challenge Gordon, but Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin are among the odds-on favorites. Stewart was the fastest in Saturday's final practice session while Hamlin had the second-fastest run.

Busch and Kevin Harvick, who qualified 40th, may be able to work back into contention if they can avoid the big one. After poor qualifying runs, both Busch's No. 2 Dodge and Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet were in the top 10 during practice.

In the end, most drivers expect Bristol to be Bristol - and that a bold move in the final laps will probably settle things.

Carl Edwards, who will start 32nd, expects the give and take that helped Saturday's practice sessions go so smoothly to continue in today's race … but only to a point.

"From what I can tell, everybody's being extremely courteous and giving a little extra," Edwards said. "I think everyone knows how much they have to lose if there's a big crash.

"My forecast is the first 300, 400 laps are going to be really tame. I don't know about the last hundred."

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