With so much money and prestige on the line these days in NASCAR's Nextel Cup series, Rusty Wallace believes there has been more banging and bumping than ever.
"I've been around this sport a long time, and I can tell you that it's the most aggressive atmosphere that I've ever seen out there," the former series champion said. "It's an explosive situation, and it'll only get worse before it gets any better."
Wallace, who will start his 654th Cup event Sunday at Pocono Raceway, said at least some of the rough driving can be chalked up to NASCAR's new "Chase for the Championship," the revised points system that cuts the title contenders to the top 10 in the standings and any drivers within 400 points of the lead after 26 of 36 races.
"With the new points deal, you've got nine or 10 guys doing everything they can to get back into the top 10 in points, and you have four or five going all out to stay up there in the top 10," Wallace said. "There's so much pressure on these guys and these teams that there's a lot of stupid stuff going on."
Wallace ran in the top 10 throughout the race last Sunday in New Hampshire, only to be held up by a couple of slower cars, then hit from behind by Dale Jarrett and spun into the wall. That relegated Wallace to a 30th-place finish and virtually eliminated him from championship contention.
Wallace goes to Pocono 19th in the standings, trailing leader Jimmie Johnson by 812 points and 10th-place Ryan Newman by 310.
Four-time Pocono winner Wallace also is worried about another new NASCAR rule.
"When you consider that NASCAR has now added the new green-white-checkered rule, it's definitely a recipe for disaster, if you ask me," he said.
Under the new rule, NASCAR will give the field a two-lap sprint to complete races under green rather than finish under caution even if means running more laps than scheduled.
"I think we're going to see some of the most weird, ridiculous and controversial situations ever in the next seven races," Wallace said. "I'm against the green-white-checkered finishes. I've told the NASCAR officials that, and I don't mind being vocal about it."
Pocono is a tale of two races for Jeff Gordon.
The two Cup events at Pocono Raceway are only 49 days apart, and the characteristics of 21/2-mile tri-oval don't change. But for Gordon, it seems like the June race and the August event are very different.
Overall, Gordon has three wins, 11 top fives and 16 top 10s in 23 events at the track in Long Pond, Pa.
His average starting position in the first event is 6.9, with an average finish of 7.3. Compare that to the second event, the Pennsylvania 500, where the numbers jump to 12.1 and 13.4, respectively. Gordon has finished 30th or worse on three occasions at Pocono, all of them in the second event.
"We haven't qualified as well in the second event, and that may be the difference," he said. "When you're off just a little bit in qualifying, it's tough to play catch-up in the race.
"Track position and pit strategy always seem to be part of the equation there. I'm sure it will be no different this weekend."
In June, Gordon overcame poor track position to finish fourth. He restarted 17th with only 28 laps to go and improved 13 positions before the checkered flag, despite only 12 of those 28 laps being run under green-flag conditions.
Since then, the four-time series champion has gained a lot of momentum. A blown engine relegated him to 28th the following week at Michigan, but he has two wins, a second and a fourth in the four races since.
Staten Island Track?
International Speedway Corporation has bought nearly 700 acres of industrial land on Staten Island on which the company run by NASCAR's France family hopes to build an 80,000-seat racetrack.
ISC officials hope to close on the property near the Goethels Bridge -- connecting the New York City borough to New Jersey -- by the end of the year. They did not reveal the purchase price.
Acquiring the land is only the first step toward building a new track, though. ISC must go through an approval process including public hearings and an environmental impact study. If a track is built, ISC would then have to go through the difficult process of procuring dates on the jam-packed NASCAR Nextel Cup schedule.
But H. Lee Combs, ISC senior vice president for corporate development, cautions that it's just one step at a time.
"This can't happen unless Staten Island wants it," he said.
ISC owns 12 of the 23 tracks at which the Cup series races. The public company also is looking at properties in Washington state and Oregon on which to build another racetrack.