FONTANA, Calif. —A wet few days in Southern California left NASCAR’s Sprint Cup drivers with a lot time on their hands Sunday.
The Auto Club 500 finally began about 2 1/2 hours after its scheduled 1 p.m. start time, but it was slowed by two early crashes and then halted as NASCAR and track officials looked for a way to stop water seeping through the seams of the 2-mile oval.
Both Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr., involved in separate crashes in the early going, were critical of the track, blaming the wet conditions for their problems.
Hamlin slid up the track and hit the wall hard on lap 14 of the 250-lap event.
“I think we can get back out there, but I think there are 42 other drivers that would agree that we should not be racing on that racetrack right now,” Hamlin said. “I hit a slick spot and my car took off. You can see it on television—right at the seams, it’s seeping a lot of water. I hit a wet spot and I’m not going to be the last one.”
After the race was restarted, Casey Mears apparently slid through water on lap 21 and clipped new Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Behind them, former open-wheel star and Cup rookie Sam Hornish Jr., slammed into the rear of Reed Sorenson and then, with his hood blocking his vision, plowed into Mears, turning his car over.
Hornish’s car burst into flame as safety workers arrived and quickly put out the fire. None of the drives were injured.
Earnhardt, still looking for his first Cup victory since May 2006, was irate over the conditions in which the race was started.
“It’s just a dirty old racetrack out there,” Earnhardt said. “It’s just frustrating, man. The track isn’t ready today. We just rushed into this. It was a bad move.”
Other drivers weren’t as upset about the track conditions.
After NASCAR stopped the field on pit lane while workers cut into the track with concrete saws in an attempt to stop the so-called “weepers,” two-time series defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said, “It seemed like the track was the best it’s been when they were bringing us onto pit road. We just need some time running out there to get some rubber down and get the dirt off the track.”
The red flag lasted 1 hour, 7 minutes.
Once the racing got going again, the track appeared to be much improved and things were looking up—until it began raining hard again. The race was halted for the second time on lap 87. The heavy rain necessitated another long track drying process, delaying the restart for several hours.
Rain on Friday washed out all on-track action, including qualifying for Cup, the Nationwide Series and the Craftsman Truck Series. Saturday, the truck race was run and the Cup drivers were able to get in half their scheduled practice before rain began again.
The Nationwide race was initially postponed from Saturday night until after the Cup race. But all of Sunday’s delays forced NASCAR to postpone the event again until Monday. Fourteen of the drivers in Sunday’s race were entered in the Nationwide event.
“It’s just a shame for the fans,” said two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart. “They’ve had a long day already.”
Former open-wheel champion Dario Franchitti was leading when the race was stopped for the second time.
“It’s California and I’m freezing,” said Franchitti, who appeared to be shivering after he got out of his car into the temperatures in the mid-40s. “We’ve been fighting this weather all week and now I’m going to go find myself someplace warm to hang out.”