by Lynne Huntting
DENNY HAMLIN/#11 Chevrolet was fastest in NASCAR Nextel Cup Happy Hour practice Saturday afternoon at Infineon Raceway, at 78.219/91.589 mph.
TONY STEWART/#20 Chevrolet and ROBBY GORDON/#7 Ford, were second and third. Fourth and fifth were KEVIN HARVICK/#29 Chevrolet and ELLIOTT SADLER/#19 Dodge, who led the charts early on.
I misunderstood DAVID RAGAN/#6 Ford when he said he was leaving right after Happy Hour practice Saturday to fly with JACK ROUSH and CARL EDWARDS/#99 Ford back to Milwaukee for the Busch Series race. They took the helicopter out of the track right after Saturday morning practice. They were the only drivers absent from Happy Hour.
Making up for lost time were Hendrick Motorsport drivers, JEFF GORDON/#24 and JIMMIE JOHNSON/#48. They spent two full Saturday sessions on track, learning as much about their new Car of Tomorrow Chevrolets as possible. Johnson and Gordon ended up ninth and tenth overall, respectively.
RICK HENDRICK, team owner, said: "We just gotta suck it up and do the best we can. We want to play by the rules. I don't enjoy this. The guys don't enjoy this. And I'm sure NASCAR doesn't enjoy this. It's an interpretation of what's okay and what's not okay.
"I bet if you took ten cars that finish this race in the top ten to the centre and you take a co-ordinate machine and measure them, they're going to be off. There is no way humanly possible you can hold tolerances closer than you do a factory car that is built by General Motors.
"We hate that it happened and I would like to think that when you come in you have something that needs corrected and the guys could say 'We don't like the looks of this; fit it' rather than go through all of this. But they're the boss and we live by their rules."
Perhaps the most pithy comment on the Hendrick Motorsport tech failure, came from the ever diplomatic KURT BUSCH/#2 Dodge: "It's going to suck with those two cars starting in the back because guys up front aren't going to get any TV time."