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Safety trucks to get own pace cars

By John Marshall

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 4 2012 6:55 p.m. MST

Drivers round Turn 1 during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race, Sunday, March 4, 2012, at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.

Matt York, Associated Press

AVONDALE, Ariz. — NASCAR will have add an extra pace car on the track to protect safety trucks following Juan Pablo Montoya's fiery wreck into a jet dryer at the Daytona 500.

NASCAR announced Sunday it will have a car with flashing lights drive behind the safety trucks during its three major series: Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Trucks. The new safety measure was implemented at Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday's Sprint Cup race.

NASCAR tracks also have agreed to have jet dryer drivers wear helmets and fire suits, and vice president of competition Robin Pemberton reminded drivers before the race to be careful of their speeds around safety vehicles.

"The pace cars will serve as sort of a chaperone for the safety vehicles to make it as safe as possible," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "We want to be as safe as we can."

The changes were made following Montoya's fiery wreck at Monday night's Daytona 500.

Trying to catch up to the back of the field during a caution, Montoya lost control of his car when the back end broke. He slid into a jet dryer clearing the track of debris, causing his car to explode and a big hole in the side of the truck.

About 200 gallons of jet fuel spilled onto the track and caught fire, causing an inferno that damaged the track. The race was delayed for more than two hours as crews worked to put out the fire and clean the track with laundry detergent.

After the race, a few drivers were surprised to learn that the jet dryer drivers weren't in protective gear.

"I couldn't believe that guy got out of the truck without a helmet and a fire suit on," Jeff Gordon said. "Don't know what kind of harness he had on, but trying to take measures to make that aspect of it safer will be a good thing."

SMOKE STOP: Defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart had a good car, one he thought could have a shot at the end.

Problem was keeping it going.

Trying to conserve fuel late in the race, Stewart turned off his car so he could coast. When he tried to fire it back up, the car wouldn't come back on.

Stewart tried to get to the pits, but couldn't get there and had to have his No. 14 pushed to his stall by a truck. It took the crew a little while to figure out how to get the car started again and by the time Stewart returned to the track, he was two laps down, in 28th. He finished 22nd and was stumped as to what happened.

"I just shut the car off like we did at Daytona to save fuel and it never re-fired. That's all I can tell you," Stewart said. "I honestly don't know, that's not my department. I just turned the switch back on and it just wouldn't re-fire and that ruined a good day for us."

BIFFLE'S FIGHT: Greg Biffle doesn't particularly like having two practice sessions right after arriving at a track on Fridays. He wasn't exactly thrilled with the way his car was handling during Sunday's race, either.

Biffle and his team kept fighting and making adjustments until they got it right late in the race, pulling it together in time for a third-place finish behind race winner Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.

"I never thought it (the car) would get that good," Biffle said. "I was ready to write that thing off for a 15th-, 20th-place finish, but boy, it started coming around, coming around and really took off."

His one regret? Not chasing down Harvick, who ran out of fuel in front of him.

"They're like, 'The 29 is running out, try and pass him, try and pass him,'" Biffle said of the final lap. "I mean, you should have told me that a lap ago, I could have passed him. So I missed him by, I don't know, 100 feet at the start/finish line and we've still got gas in the car."

SUH-TED FOR RACING: Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was the marshal for Sunday's race, which at first glance would seem to be an odd fit.

But the big guy says he likes racing and has attended a few races, including Las Vegas last spring. He, along with Carl Edwards, also happens to be a spokesman for Subway, title sponsor of the race.

"This is actually my third race and I've had a chance to watch it on TV a bit," Suh said. "Last spring, I was in Vegas. I looked inside (Edwards') car today and don't think I would be able to sit in it. I'll slim down a little bit, but I don't think the Lions would be too happy about it."

PIT STOPS: Kasey Kahne's bid to win his second straight race at PIR ended quickly. The winner of the fall race in the desert, he started 10th on Sunday and never got much of a chance to move up after sliding up into the wall in the first 30 laps. After a trip to the pits, he returned 37 laps down and ended up finishing 34th. ... Casey Mears crashed into the wall on lap 111 when his brakes failed. He said on the radio after the hard hit that his brake pedal went to the floor. Mears finished 39th.

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