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Buckler faces mounting problems

Kevin Buckler, winner of the 2003 Rolex 24, had more than his share of troubles last week. First, the car and equipment hauler belonging to his Racers Group team caught fire on the trip from California, necessitating a scramble to find a replacement trailer.

Next, Buckler learned that his three cars would be ordered to start near the rear of the field because of a paperwork delay during registration.

As for the race, well, Buckler has had better.

After quickly moving to as high as second place in the GT class, Buckler's No. 66 GT3RS Porsche, which he shares with co-drivers Timo Bernhard, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long, had its rear tire punctured, causing some damage to the bodywork.

The slow ride back to the pits cost him nearly two laps. But Buckler was thankful that things weren't worse.

"One of the good things about having been here so many times is that I know all the back routes," Buckler said. "It's really bizarre. We don't need any more adversity. Maybe it's all out of the way."

NASCAR BUDDIES: In a couple of weeks they'll be rivals again at the track, but this weekend Nextel Cup stars Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are fast friends.

The two have had a jovial time as teammates, joining Andy Wallace in the Howard-Boss Motorsports Chevrolet-Crawford, sharing news-conference duties and even occasionally waving to the ever-present throng of fans camped outside the fence behind their pit stall.

And when one is in the race car, the other one is usually listening in on the team's scanner.

But apparently, driving advice is something neither feels compelled to impart on the other.

Earnhardt, who had some experience in driving a sports cars in the rain, was asked whether he had passed on any tips to Stewart.

"Tony doesn't need any tips," Earnhardt said. "He's a natural. You could dump snow out here and he'd probably get around here better than any of us."

INTERNATIONAL CAST: This year's driver lineup is one of the most diverse in terms of countries represented, 20. The majority of the drivers are Americans. The next most popular nationality is Canada, home of 13 drivers, followed by Italy, represented by 12 competitors.