Bruce Martin
Monday March 17th, 2008

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- There is a formula used to determine when Easter Sunday falls each year, but many of us aren't smart enough to figure it out without looking at the calendar.

Whatever the algorithm may be, Easter weekend couldn't come soon enough for the NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors.

Factoring in preseason testing at Daytona in January, followed by preseason tests at California and Las Vegas before heading to Daytona Beach for SpeedWeeks, there's really no offseason in this sport.

And after the biggest race of the season -- the Daytona 500 -- the beastly nature of the 2008 Sprint Cup schedule sent the teams to California and Las Vegas in consecutive weeks before returning to the Southeast for races at Atlanta and Bristol.

During the weeks between, teams have run private tests at tracks not on the Sprint Cup schedule, in constant search for an edge on the competition.

So it's easy to understand how this weekend will give the drivers and crews a much-needed chance to rejuvenate before heading to Martinsville in two weeks followed by an April 6 trip to Texas and an April 12 night race in Phoenix.

But this weekend won't be devoid of racing as the Nationwide Series heads to Nashville for a Saturday race where some of the Cup drivers -- such as Carl Edwards -- can still get their racing fix.

One driver who won't be there is Kevin Harvick, who will turn the reins of his Nationwide team to his crew while enjoying a weekend off.

"They will keep us informed as to what going on," Harvick said. "We will be at home, relaxing and just kind of taking it all in.

"This year on the Cup side, we have had so much work to do as far as testing and other things, this off week is timed at a really good point. Before, the third week of the season, you weren't really ready for an off week. With all the stuff we have had going on this year, it comes at a perfect time."

Jeff Gordon gets to spend his first Easter Sunday as a father with his wife, Ingrid, who gave birth to daughter Ella last year.

"I'm just excited to have a week of just being with Ingrid and Ella as a family," Gordon said. "The thing is, I don't really get to be a dad as much as I really want to when I'm testing and racing. Even though they might travel with me and I get to see them, it's just for short periods of time. So I feel like I miss a lot of things.

"Those moments when I'm there solid, every single day, my favorite days are when I go, 'Ingrid, you go and just let us hang out.' Those are the coolest moments because I love seeing how [Ella] acts and reacts, especially now that she's doing so many new things. She's trying to walk, she's trying to talk, just all these things. I know they are going to take a long time before they actually happen, but just seeing the effort in there, it's just really, really cool. I don't want to miss any of it.

"So being able to spend 24 hours a day for a whole week, that's the ultimate. Now I might be ready to get back to the race track after that week."

WHERE THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD

After making some heated comments about the terrible performance of the Goodyear tires at Atlanta, Tony Stewart met with Stu Grant, Goodyear's General Manager of Worldwide Racing, during Friday's rainout at Bristol.

"I'm glad the weather gave us a break in the schedule that allowed us to meet this afternoon, and I appreciate Stu taking the time to meet with me," Stewart said. "We're hoping that Goodyear will now work with us a little better on the racing side of things and rely on our input a little more, because we are the ones driving the cars.

"It was a good meeting, but at the end of the day, it's up to Goodyear to make it right. If having this meeting helps to make things better down the road, then this meeting was a success."

Grant wanted the opportunity to meet with the two-time NASCAR Cup champion so he could give an explanation of the tire situation and help clear up any perceptions about the quality of the product.

"It was an excellent meeting," Grant said. "It was constructive. It was extremely worthwhile to sit down and have a discussion with him. Tony was able to express his concerns and I listened to his concerns. I was able to explain our process, and we both talked about how, moving forward, we can improve the process of developing tires for NASCAR Sprint Cup racing together."

Stewart admitted his comments after the Atlanta race were made in frustration but, most importantly, he wanted to get Goodyear's attention.

Apparently, it worked.

The comments were contrary to what Stewart had said earlier in the afternoon to a group of reporters outside his transporter. Stewart was asked his thoughts on not being invited to test tires by the company at its tire tests throughout the season that help engineers determine the proper tire for that track.

"I don't like tire testing anyway. It's more days out of our schedule," Stewart said. "There's a reason that they have to do it, obviously, but the drivers, the teams don't really get anything for doing it other than taking two days out of their schedule and we can give them all the feedback that we want, but very rarely.

"Dale Earnhardt Jr. said the same thing last week in the media center if you'll remember and go back to your notes. There are very few times that we give them our input and they actually bring back what we recommend, so it makes it frustrating to want to go try to help a company that doesn't take the input that you give them anyway and listen to what you have to say."

HORNISH SURVIVES BUMP DAY

"Bump Day" arrived for Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr. at Bristol and the former IndyCar champions were simply glad to have it over.

Franchitti was involved in two crashes, including one on lap 280 where he was tagged from behind by Paul Menard in the first turn. Despite the damage, last year's Indianapolis 500 winner continued and finished 38th. He's now 38th in the points, which means he'll have to qualify into the starting field through time trial speeds beginning at Martinsville.

Hornish entered Sunday's contest 36th in points. But after moving up to 35th thanks to his 29th-place finish, he's still guaranteed a starting position when the series resumes.

"We came here to put ourselves in a position to be in the top 35 in driver's points -- and we did that today," Hornish said. "It was what I thought it would be, except I probably got bumped a little bit more than I bumped anybody else just because we weren't as quick as we'd like to be. The left rear quarter panel sure shows it."

Franchitti saw the unique high-banked, half-mile concrete oval for the first time on Friday morning and was amazed.

"I think Bristol stands alone," Franchitti said. "Nowhere is like Bristol. The closest thing that I've ever come to it was when I was racing an Indy car at Richmond or Iowa. You've got the sensation of speed but you don't have the grip, so it makes it pretty interesting."

FAREWELL TO DALE

Dale Jarrett finished 37th in his final NASCAR Sprint Cup race and, after being honored and hailed all weekend, had little to say following the 668th race of his career.

"Well, it wasn't the finish I would have liked," said Jarrett, who will wrap it up for good after the All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in May. "I'm able to go out with the best sponsor in the business in UPS and I would have liked to have had a better day for them, but I really can't be too upset when you take into consideration the kind of career I have been fortunate to have."

Jarrett was lauded by his fellow drivers as a man who brought dignity to his trade as a race driver.

"He has had a heck of a career and I have had a blast racing with him," Jeff Gordon said. "I feel fortunate to have raced him for some great wins, great battles for wins as well as for championships. He is just one of the highest quality individuals and race car drivers that I have ever raced against.

"It is really odd to me when guys you have been racing with say they are retiring and are not going to be out there on the track with you anymore."

When Tony Stewart left IndyCar racing to become a full-time NASCAR Cup competitor in 1999, Jarrett was in the midst of his championship season but always had time to offer advice to the then Cup rookie.

So when Stewart won his first career Cup race at Richmond in September 1999, Jarrett came to victory lane to congratulate the young driver.

"He's been a great voice," Stewart said of Jarrett, who often has spoken on behalf of his fellow drivers. "He's kind of been a mentor in the way that (Dale) Earnhardt Sr. was -- when Dale Jarrett spoke about something -- everybody listened and took to heart what he said. He's always had that smile on his face and he's got that famous DJ smile. He was a great champion, he was a great winner and he was a great ambassador for this sport. He was one of the first guys when I won my first race at Richmond (to offer congratulations). He made you feel welcomed and you appreciated his friendship.

"He was very fair -- he was one of those guys that would race you hard when it was time to race hard and when it was early in the race and it didn't mean much, then he knew to be patient. He raced you the way you raced him. If you learned to be patient and race him with respect he would do the same."

FLAME-OUT

Mike Skinner's Toyota Camry became a real flamethrower on lap 292 when his car ignited on the same lap that Kyle Busch spun out while leading the race.

"I didn't think it was a big deal at all," Skinner said. "My spotter told me that there was a wreck off turn two, and they were checking up over there. I checked up, but I didn't want to slow down too quick and got hit from behind, and I just bumped into the back of -- I think it was the 78 (Joe Nemechek). I didn't really hit him that hard, but it must have been hard enough to break an oil line or something.

"The bump was barely a hit. It shocked me when I looked up and saw fire behind the car, and I said, 'What the heck is going on here?' I thought the Red Bull Toyota was fine, but apparently it broke an oil fitting or something off and got on the header and it was just blowing fire out from underneath the car. I was just going to drive it back to the pits and have the guys put it out and fix whatever was wrong with it and get back out there."

All in all, it made for a spectacular scene.

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