Wet weather causes postponement of California race - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Wet weather causes postponement of California race

FONTANA, Calif. (AP) - One of the longest days in NASCAR history ended with Jimmie Johnson out front and a long way to go.

The two-time reigning Sprint Cup champion was leading Sunday when the Auto Club 500 race was stopped by rain after 87 of the scheduled 250 laps. Five hours later, NASCAR and track officials gave in to the water seeping out of the ground and across the asphalt track and postponed the completion of the race until this morning at 10 a.m local time.

Travis Kvapil was just behind Johnson, followed by Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon.

Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon, a four-time series champion, dominated while the green flag was out Sunday.

"The car is driving great," Johnson said before the postponement. "I really have to give these guys a lot of credit at Hendrick Motorsports to give us this great driving race car. Both Jeff and I seem real strong."

"It's California and I'm freezing," said former open-wheel champion and Sprint Cup rookie Dario Franchitti, who appeared to be shivering after he got out of his car into the temperatures in the mid-40s. "We've been fighting this weather all week and now I'm going to go find myself someplace warm to hang out."

He wasn't alone as many of the thousands of race fans who were in the stands for the start of the rain delay start of the race left or sought cover from the elements.

The last downpour brought the third and final long delay of the day.

The race finally began about 2½ hours after its scheduled 1 p.m. start time, but it was slowed by two early crashes and then halted as NASCAR and track officials looked for a way to stop water seeping through the seams of the 2-mile oval.

Both Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr., involved in separate crashes in the early going, were critical of the track, blaming the wet conditions for their problems.

Hamlin slid up the track and hit the wall hard on lap 14 of the 250-lap event.

"I think we can get back out there, but I think there are 42 other drivers that would agree that we should not be racing on that racetrack right now," Hamlin said. "I hit a slick spot and my car took off. You can see it on television - right at the seams, it's seeping a lot of water. I hit a wet spot and I'm not going to be the last one."

After the race was restarted, Casey Mears apparently slid through water on lap 21 and clipped Earnhardt Jr. Behind them, former open-wheel star and Cup rookie Sam Hornish Jr., slammed into the rear of Reed Sorenson and then, with his hood blocking his vision, plowed into Mears, turning his car over.

Hornish's car burst into flames as safety workers arrived and quickly put out the fire. None of the drivers were injured.

Earnhardt, still looking for his first Cup victory since May 2006, was irate over the conditions in which the race was started.

"It's just a dirty old racetrack out there," Earnhardt said. "It's just frustrating, man. The track isn't ready today. We just rushed into this. It was a bad move."

Other drivers weren't as upset about the track conditions.

After NASCAR stopped the field on pit lane while workers cut into the track with concrete saws in an attempt to stop the so-called weepers, Johnson said, "It seemed like the track was the best it's been when they were bringing us onto pit road. We just need some time running out there to get some rubber down and get the dirt off the track."

The first red flag lasted 1 hour, 7 minutes.

Once the racing got going again, the track appeared to be much improved and things were looking up - until it began raining hard again. The race was halted for the second time on lap 87. The heavy rain necessitated another long track drying process.

This time, the track workers couldn't get the track dry enough to restart the race and it was officially postponed at 11:02 p.m.

Rain on Friday washed out all on-track action, including qualifying for Cup, the Nationwide Series and the Craftsman Truck Series. Saturday, the truck race was run and the Cup drivers were able to get in half their scheduled practice before rain began again.

The Nationwide race was initially postponed from Saturday night until after the Cup race. But all of Sunday's delays forced NASCAR to postpone the event again until Monday. It will follow the completion of the Sprint Cup race.


(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)       AP-NY-02-25-08 0430EST

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