CONCORD, N.C. (AP) – Altering the track surface at Lowe’s Motor Speedway was supposed to create a more competitive race. Instead, it helped turn the Coca-Cola 600 into a demolition derby.

A NASCAR-record 22 cautions marred the event, and drivers complained that track changes caused many of them.

“I know their intentions were good here, but anytime that you make our cars go faster somewhere the racing is not going to be as good,” Dale Jarrett said. “You’re on the edge too much and things like that are going to happen.”

Lowe’s Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler spent $250,000 to grind out the track’s trademark bumps to create a smooth surface that would foster more side-by-side racing. The process, called “levigating,” was only done in the turns.

After watching Sunday night’s marathon race – at one point fans hung a sign: “So this is levigating?” – Wheeler said he was second-guessing some of the changes.

“I don’t feel particularly good as the promoter having the most cautions in a race in NASCAR history,” he said Tuesday. “We may have to look into making a few changes before the next race here.”

Wheeler said he believes he should have used the grinder on both racing lines in the second turn of the track instead of only smoothing out the faster groove. By ignoring the second line, drivers slid between smooth asphalt and bumpy patches with little warning.

“It took me about 400 miles to figure out how to get in and out of that turn,” said Jimmie Johnson, who won the race for a record third-straight year.

Of the cautions Sunday night, 16 of the 22 were for accidents or spins. Not all could be blamed on the surface. Dale Earnhardt Jr. caused a five-car accident by running into the back of Michael Waltrip and Brian Vickers eliminated a handful of contenders with an error.

But the track was to blame for the gaping hole punched into the front of Jeff Gordon’s car when a chunk of sealer came loose.

“It looked like boulders were flying,” said runner-up Bobby Labonte. “There was definitely something that came apart. After that, the ruts were there … but they weren’t as bad as the stuff coming up.”

Every track cracks and the loose sealer was a fluke, Wheeler said. NASCAR agreed it was unrelated to the changes in the surface. Still, many complained that passing was difficult on the smooth surface. Johnson seemed to have no trouble as he cruised past three cars in the final five laps, including his slide in front of Labonte in the final turn to win the race.

Determining why there were so many accidents will be left for NASCAR to investigate. The 12 points races this season have had 89 cautions for accidents or spins, up 30 from last year.

New tires are partly to blame. Drivers also are adjusting to new aerodynamic rules. Driver error must also be factored in, Wheeler said.

“What I think everybody is missing is there is a tremendous frustration in the garage area, because people haven’t won yet this year,” Wheeler said. “A high level of frustration often leads to over driving. Guys do things they might not normally do.”

Seven drivers have combined to win the 12 races this season. Two-time winner Johnson, who has been blamed for several accidents this season, agreed that driver error is to blame.

But he also said the fans might actually like it.

“I think the fans like to see the crashes, personally,” he said. “They like to see hard racing and it’s part of it. It’s impossible to pass people. You have to drive over your head.

“The reason you’re seeing more cautions is because, to stay competitive, you have to drive that hard every lap. We need to stop pointing fingers and realize it’s just racing and hard racing.”

AP-ES-05-31-05 1500EDT

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