Winston Cup Drivers Love the Lights

Friday, May 2nd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Racing under the lights is something NASCAR drivers look forward to almost as much as the fans.

As they arrive at Richmond International Raceway for the first night race of the season, the Winston Cup drivers and their teams have to be hoping a track moisture problem that surfaced Thursday will be fixed in a hurry.

The problem delayed Busch series qualifying for 3 hours, 40 minutes, turning what looked like a short day into one that stretched into the darkness as NASCAR considered whether to have a session at all.

Officials might be forced to cut grooves in the track to drain the water and then cement them over. The Busch series race is Friday night, 24 hours before the Winston Cup event.

``It's fairly common to cut these grooves and give the water a place to go,'' NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said. ``It's just one of those things.''

Potential problems aside, drivers almost universally enjoy night racing for reasons ranging from returning to their short-track roots to cooler temperatures, heightened visibility and hope for a rare Sunday off.

``It's the style track most everyone grew up on,'' Kevin Harvick said.

There's plenty of side-by-side racing, and beating and banging all night.

Points leader Matt Kenseth appreciates the blast from the past.

``Saturday night shootouts in our past hold a lot of great memories, and I guess that ends up being a small part of the allure,'' he said.

Night racing also helps minimize the heat that can build up in an asphalt infield surrounded by 100,000 aluminum seats. The bright lights accentuate the paint on the cars _ and the fireworks on the track.

``It's good for the fans and good for the drivers because it keeps us cool in the cars,'' Harvick said. ``I think you get a bigger speed sensation at night, with the brakes glowing and the sparks flying everywhere.''

This year's schedule essentially gives drivers most of Saturday off, providing qualifying and their final practice go off on Friday night. Their first Saturday obligation is the mandatory meeting for drivers and crew chiefs at 5:30 p.m., two hours before the start of the Pontiac Excitement 400.

Greg Biffle thinks the waiting makes the racing more exciting for fans who have all day to get ready and for drivers eager to go racing.

``The atmosphere at a night race just seems to be more energetic all the way around,'' the Roush Racing driver said. ``The fans are extremely pumped up and the drivers seem to take a more aggressive approach.''

At all Winston Cup races, the crowd roars with the firing of the engines and the sight of 43 cars rolling off pit road. Busch series driver Ron Hornaday gets especially fired up under the lights.

``My favorite part is on the pace laps when the flash bulbs are going off,'' he said. ``From where I'm at in the car, it's an awesome sight.''