AROUND THE OVALS | NASCAR notebook
All-star changes: NASCAR isn't planning any radical changes this year to its annual all-star race, presented by new series sponsor Nextel and run at Lowe's Motor Speedway. But slight alterations to the format could be forthcoming, and the sanctioning body wouldn't rule out moving the event to a different venue in 2005. The Nextel All-Star Challenge, previously known as The Winston, will be held May 22 under the same "elimination" format former sponsor R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. introduced two years ago. The format sets up a 14-car field racing for a $1 million payout over the final 20 laps. Drivers are eliminated after the first 40-lap segment and the second 30-lap portion. The race has been held at Lowe's Motor Speedway in suburban Charlotte the past 17 years and all but once since its 1985 inception. Both NASCAR and various track owners want the event to move around to different facilities each year, but most teams and drivers want the race to stay at Lowe's, considered the home track to most of NASCAR's competitors, because it saves a weekend of travel.
Darlington to get soft walls: Darlington Raceway is getting the SAFER barriers in time for the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 next month. Installation of the so-called "soft walls" already is under way at NASCAR's oldest superspeedway. Earlier this year, NASCAR said all facilities hosting Nextel Cup series events would be fitted with the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction system by next January.
Truck crew chiefs fined: NASCAR fined 12 Craftsman Truck series crew chiefs for a series of infractions. Douglas Howe, crew chief for Shane Sieg, was hit with the biggest penalty, a $3,000 fine for an unapproved intake manifold, and an additional $1,000 for an unapproved rear bumper reinforcement barn discovered before the season-opening event Feb. 13 at Daytona International Speedway. Jeffrey D. Rollins, crew chief for Bobby Hamilton, was fined $3,250 for using an unapproved air filter housing spacer and unapproved panel in the truck's wheel well area.
Tire test: Goodyear had a thorough test of its new tire under competition at Rockingham. The abrasive surface of the 1.017-miles speedway offered a good indication of how the same tires will hold up next month at Darlington and Bristol. According to Goodyear marketing manager Rick Heinrich, "Everything in our inventory from Daytona to Homestead has changed one way or another, but teams are noticing the biggest difference in the handling of the cars. Although the compound for the Rockingham tire didn't change, the difference was in the softer construction." Heinrich is expecting the teams to see a "widespread difference" at Las Vegas because of the significant change in the tires for that track.
-- Combined dispatches