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NASCAR drivers get break

Think of it as NASCAR lite.

It may be race time at Darlington Raceway, but it doesn't feel like a Winston Cup weekend: No massive haulers backing their way into the garage, no hand trucks loaded with new tires, and no officials whistling spectators and crew to stay clear as racing machines roar back to their mechanics as they prep for Sunday's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.

It's the second go-round for a NASCAR experiment _ compacting three days into two for its drivers and teams.

"There's no doubt you've got to pack a lot of things into a short time," Rusty Wallace said, "but I like it, I really do."

No Winston Cup teams will tour the 1.366-mile layout today, the track's traditional pole day. Qualifying will be Saturday, with a two-hour practice after the SunCom 200 Busch race.

The plan worked at Rockingham three weeks ago, Darlington president Jim Hunter said. It also will be tried at Dover.

NASCAR says it hopes to relieve pressure for its stars, who often sound off about the demands on their time from sponsors, fans and crews.

"You gain about half a day," Wallace said. Instead of getting in Thursday afternoon and setting up for the next day's practice and qualifying, Wallace said teams can spend a leisurely Friday unloading and tinkering.

"Then on Saturday, you're wide open all day," he said.

MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX: The last time Michael Schumacher was at the Sepang International Circuit, he wore a wig in Ferrari's trademark red, celebrating the Italian team's first driver-and-company titles in a generation.

At this weekend's race, the three-time Formula One champion has his sights on a new goal _ to become the first driver since 1953 to win six straight races.

Ferrari is off to a strong start for 2001, finishing the opening Australian Grand Prix in the same order as the 2000 season-ender here: Schumacher first, McLaren's David Coulthard second and Ferrari stablemate Rubens Barrichello third.

If Schumacher wins Sunday's race, his six consecutive victories will be the most by a Formula One driver since Alberto Ascari of Italy, who went on win nine straight in 1952-53. Ascari also drove a Ferrari, but the regulations and competition were far different and Ferrari was the only competitive car on the track.

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