NASCAR President Mike Helton would give plenty to see a nice, simple race today at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

Two weeks of mistakes, confusion and too many laps under the caution flag have left the stock car sanctioning organization in dire need of a problem-free weekend.

"We can only hope that happens. It would be good for everybody," Helton said yesterday between the final practice sessions for the DHL 400. "I think the ideal situation is for us to get through a couple of races with no strange occurrences in them. But, more importantly, if something that we've not seen yet occurs, our reaction to it needs to be solid and as good as it can be."

Helton has been put in the uncomfortable position of having to apologize for gaffes by NASCAR officials at Dover and Pocono the past two weeks.

Most of the problems have stemmed from NASCAR's continuing efforts to figure out a fail-safe way to freeze the field when the caution flag comes out.

Until last fall, the drivers were allowed to race back to the flagstand, a dangerous practice, but considerably easier to score.

The last two races have been marred by extended caution periods as officials scrambled to get the cars in the proper order on the track before waving the green flag.

"We're not changing anything this week," Helton said. "But, at the same time, we continue to look at the things we can do, particularly in procedures related to not racing back to the yellow and the chain of things that have occurred because of that move.

"We are looking very hard at how to simplify those things to where NASCAR, the competitors and the fans can understand it."

Jeff Gordon, who will start from the pole in today's race, said he believes NASCAR has just gotten caught by circumstances.

"There are so many factors and things that can go wrong during a race," the four-time series champion said. "NASCAR has done a phenomenal job on things for many years. They're under a big microscope and they've made some big mistakes."

* FORMULA ONE: Rubens Barrichello outdueled Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher by 0.177 second to win the pole for today's U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis.

Schumacher, the six-time world champion and season points leader, appeared to have his sixth pole of the season wrapped up when he finished in 1 minute 10.44 seconds and Barrichello got off to a slower start.

But the Brazilian recovered quickly, wiping out a 0.2 second deficit at the first split by going 0.4 second faster than Schumacher through the second split.

It was all Barrichello needed. He completed his qualifying lap in 1:10.400, crossing the finish line as fans waved the Ferrari team flags.

Japan's Takuma Sato, who drives for BAR Honda, finished in 1:10.601 and will start third.