Joliet, Ill. The big question going into the inaugural Winston Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway is whether anybody will be able to pass.
"Right now, it's just one groove," said Todd Bodine, who starts from the pole today in the Tropicana 400. "We've seen it at a lot of our new race tracks. The first race or first race and a half or two races are pretty much one groove."
The groove on a race track is the optimum racing line, usually easy to spot because it gets covered by more and more tire rubber as the day goes on. A worn track surface generally retains more rubber and gives the cars more traction.
When practice began Thursday, the 11*2-mile, D-shaped tri-oval banked 18 degrees in the turns and 11 degrees on the straightaways, was clean and slippery.
With no rain to wash the rubber off, the groove has gotten darker and darker each day. But it hasn't become much more than one-car-length wide.
"The only thing I'm hoping for (today) is that we'll see guys start pushing up off the corner and start widening the groove out there so at least you maybe can set a guy up and pass him off the corner," Bodine said. "Otherwise, it's going to be difficult to pass."
Ricky Rudd was watching Saturday's Sam's Club-Hills Bros 300 Busch Series race with interest, hoping that would widen the groove before today's 400-miler.
"I'm pretty confident it will move up from the center," said Rudd, who will start third in the 43-car field. "But can you go down in that turn one side-by-side at speed? Right now, no, I don't think so."
Jimmy Spencer, starting alongside Bodine, his Carter-Haas Motorsports teammate, on the front row, was more confident there will be enough grip to pass today.
"I think you'll see two grooves," Spencer said. "I think after the Busch race today there will be a lot of rubber down and the groove will move up a bunch."
Bill Elliott, whose Dodge will start fourth behind three Fords thinks the track will change more than the drivers anticipate.
"I think a lot of the guys think it's going to stay the same all day, and I think yesterday is a good example of how this race track is going to change," Elliott said. "It's going to be the guy that's flexible enough that can change his car during the day or have enough adjustability in it to when the race track changes he can stay hooked up to it all day."