CONCORD, N.C. (AP) – NASCAR points leader Tony Stewart crashed during a test session at Lowe’s Motor Speedway on Tuesday, raising serious questions about the track surface.

Stewart crashed his Chevrolet after running just a handful of laps, then ended his session because of a headache. He met briefly with track President Humpy Wheeler before heading home.

Wheeler used a grinding process called “levigating” in the turns of the track earlier this year to smooth out the trademark bumps in an effort to foster more side-by-side racing. After a NASCAR-record 22 cautions during the May race, Wheeler went back and levigated the rest of the surface.

None of the drivers participating in Tuesday’s test session thinks the changes helped.

“I don’t remember any of the drivers asking for changes,” Stewart told reporters before leaving. “You’ve got to give Humpy credit for trying to make the track better. He actually made it worse instead.”

Of the 22 cautions in May, 16 were for accidents or spins although not all could be blamed on the surface.

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

And even though the grinding was done to create better racing, many drivers complained that passing was difficult on the smooth surface. So Wheeler went for more grinding in an effort to improve the surface before the track’s Oct. 15 race.

“It was the world’s greatest racetrack, and it was awesome the way it was,” Mark Martin said. “It’s just messed up now.

“Humpy has tried to make it better … but he shouldn’t have tried to manipulate this racetrack in the first place. I don’t know why it had to be more exciting for the fans than it was, because it was a great racetrack.”

Greg Biffle was hesitant to take his car onto the track after Stewart’s accident. Martin and Kurt Busch, Biffle’s Roush Racing teammates, decided to test the surface, and Biffle said Martin nearly wrecked and Busch was threatening to call it quits.

Biffle eventually headed out to run some laps, and had a mixed verdict when asked to asses the track.

“It’s very odd,” he said. “Totally not what we expected. It is smoother, slicker, and the tire is not getting a lot of grip. It reminds me of a brand new race track.”

But Biffle said outside elements could have been part of the problem.

The track was very fresh – cars had not been on it for 10 days, so there was little to no rubber on the surface when the test started.

Also, it was an unusually hot day for late September and the track temperature was hovering around 130 degrees at the start of the session.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, said he doesn’t think the surface will be a problem for the October race.

“It was a green racetrack,” he said. “They’ve done more grinding in the corners. It was very hot out. This place gets slick. It will continue to get better as it did in the spring.”

Still, Wheeler conceded the track will likely need to be repaved before next year.

“We knew it eventually needed to be repaved,” Wheeler said. “Grinding the track bought us a little time and we tried to make it racier. We think it will be fine for the race and then we’ll look at the next step.”

AP-ES-09-20-05 1953EDT

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