Rusty Wallace has few peers when it comes to passing and winning on NASCAR's road courses.
But Wallace, one of only three Winston Cup drivers with four career victories away from the circuit's traditional ovals, comes to Watkins Glen International as a novice of sorts.
The sharp turns where he has made so many productive passes have undergone a major change. Because of wear and tear on the asphalt, the racing surface is partly concrete.
"Many racing insiders have been predicting this scenario will be a chassis man's worst nightmare," Wallace said. "It's definitely going to be a situation where the tires grip less on the concrete in the turns, and I think we're going to see a lot of crashes in practice."
He won't have to wait long to find out. Practice and qualifying are today for Sunday's Frontier at the Glen.
Despite his standing as a magnificent road racer, Wallace finds himself at a disadvantage against two-time defending Glen champion Jeff Gordon and series points leader Dale Jarrett. Each used one of his seven designated tests three weeks ago on the 11-turn, 2.45-mile layout.
"I really wish we hadn't blown that test out at Sears Point earlier this year because the changes they did there were so minor," Wallace said of the other NASCAR road course in Sonoma, Calif. "It would have been great to have used that test at the Glen."
Wallace said he learned from Jarrett that the ideal line through most of the corners is two wheels on asphalt, two on concrete.
"That really adds a new wrinkle to everything," Wallace said.
Mark Martin, like Gordon and Wallace a four-time winner on serpentine tracks, was part of a June tire-testing session at the Glen. But that was before the concrete was laid.
So, Martin, who didn't test July 26, also wondered what to expect from the new surface.
"I wish they hadn't repaved it since the tires are totally up in the air now," he said.
Gordon, trying for his third straight victory at the Glen and fifth in a row on road courses, said he likes the changes: "It's got grip, and I know it's going to be consistent."
That could be bad news for the others, because Gordon is now the most accomplished of road racers. His dash from far back in the waning laps last year ranks with the most impressive of his 46 career victories.
It's certainly something he's not likely to forget.
"That was some of the best racing that I've been a part of," he said, recalling that when he passed Martin and Wallace, he thought he was in the lead.
But with five laps to go, Gordon was told Mike Skinner remained to be overtaken. Gordon wasn't sure he hadn't used up his car moving through the field, but decided to keep pressing as hard as he could.
IRVINE THREATENS TO QUIT FERRARI: World championship leader Eddie Irvine has threatened to quit Ferrari unless he keeps his new No. 1 driver status when injured teammate Michael Schumacher returns. In Budapest, where he will drive in Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix, Irvine denied saying Schumacher makes too many mistakes.
MILLER LITE 200: Dario Franchitti hopes to repeat the strategy at Sunday's CART race in Lexington, Ohio, that worked for him last weekend: Get to the front and stay out of trouble. Franchitti won last weekend's Grand Prix of Detroit, taking his second victory in the last three starts, by outlasting the field in a race that was filled with wrecks and ended with a caution flag flying. "It was one of the craziest races we've ever run, but my race was reasonably uneventful," he said. " My team performed faultlessly and I did my job. I'd be very happy to have things go just as smoothly again this Sunday." Qualifying takes place today and Saturday at the 2.25-mile, 13-turn track in north central Ohio, where the winner generally is among the first four qualifiers because it's a layout with tight turns and few spots for passing.
BUSCH NORTH SERIES: A Rochester, N.Y., businessman is showing appreciation for his alma mater by putting the Ohio college's name on the side panels and roof of a race car. Wittenberg graduate Eugene Miller is sponsoring a Chevrolet in Saturday's event at Watkins Glen, N.Y.