Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon wasted no time returning to the track after NASCAR inspectors approved their cars.
Johnson, the reigning Nextel Cup champion, and Gordon, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate and four-time series champion, were the first cars on the 1.99-mile Infineon Raceway road course in Sonoma, Calif., for practice yesterday. The two had an unexpected day off Friday after their cars failed inspection. NASCAR deemed the front fenders on the No. 24 and No. 48 Chevrolets illegal and banned the drivers from the day's practice and qualifying.
NASCAR did, however, allow the teams to alter the fenders and send the cars back through inspection. Both teams did that Friday, but waited until yesterday for official approval.
Johnson and Gordon will start 41st and 42d today in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
Asked about the violations, team owner Rick Hendrick said, "You can measure a bore on a block and you can measure a floor on a porch. When you have a bunch of guys putting a body together, and they pushed it in an area, how do you make sure unless you laser-check everything?"
Gordon, a five-time winner and the defending champion at Sonoma, said it's going to be tough to try to drive to the front on the treacherous road circuit that winds through the hills of Northern California wine country. Making it more difficult is the fact that this is the road racing debut of NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow, a virtually unknown quantity on this kind of track.
Busch -- After missing the start of the race because his helicopter couldn't find a place to land, Denny Hamlin rallied to take the checkered flag at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis.
But because a substitute driver, Aric Almirola, started the race in Hamlin's car, NASCAR officially will credit Almirola with the victory. According to NASCAR officials, it was the first time a relief driver had won a Busch series race since Jack Ingram turned his car over to Harry Gant at Darlington Raceway April 13, 1985.
Hamlin, one of a handful of drivers splitting time between the Nextel Cup race in Sonoma, Calif., and the Busch race in Milwaukee this weekend, arrived late to the track and took the wheel from Almirola during an early pit stop. Hamlin steadily sliced through traffic and finally took the lead for the first time with 78 laps to go.
Champ -- Sebastien Bourdais rolled his eyes and faked despair when told he hadn't broken the track record. "Do I still get the point?" he asked. Sure do. And the pole, too.
Bourdais, who has been turning Champ Car races into checker-flagged Sunday drives this season, won the pole for the Grand Prix of Cleveland by holding off rookie Simon Pagenaud and a pack of first-year racers.
Flying around the 2.106-mile course over the runways and taxiways of Burke Lakefront Airport, Bourdais had a best lap of 56.363 seconds -- .08 seconds behind the track mark set by defending champion A.J. Allmendinger in last year's qualifying. In winning his 27th career pole, Bourdais received 1 point and now has 107 to lead Will Power by 13 in the overall championship standings.
IRL -- Scott Dixon earned his first pole of the season during qualifying for today's inaugural Iowa Corn Indy 250. Given how tough passing is expected to be on Iowa's new Rusty Wallace-designed short oval, some think Dixon might not give the top spot back.
Dixon qualified for the top spot with a top speed of 182.360 miles per hour, grabbing the seventh pole of his career and his first on a short oval since 2003. Helio Castroneves (182.272) also earned a spot in the front row during qualifying.
Points leader Dario Franchitti and Rahal Letterman's Scott Sharp will make up the second row.