Give NASCAR credit for inviting drivers and team owners to a meeting to discuss ways to improve the quality of racing in the Sprint Cup series.

It wasn't only that NASCAR chairman Brian France and president Mike Helton were in the mood for listening. They see the empty seats at races and the decline in television ratings (the numbers on Fox telecasts this season are off 10 percent).

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During the meeting on Tuesday at NASCAR's research and development center in Concord, N.C., Ryan Newman recommended more driver control. Kurt Busch suggested a "wider or bigger tire." Some think reducing horsepower would produce better racing. No one asked for my input, but here are a few suggestions:

-- Shorten the length of several races. Five hundred miles at Daytona is fine; the season-opening Daytona 500 is traditional. But some races, such as Pocono's, are just too long. Five hundred miles at Pocono is 50 to 100 too many (I can hear the howls of Pocono chairman "Doc" Mattioli).

"Pocono is a great racetrack," two-time Pocono winner Kurt Busch said on a Tuesday conference call. "[But] when you can only go 35 laps on a tank of fuel, it seems to add a little bit more to [races] lasting a long time. Four hundred miles, would that make sense for Pocono? I think so."

Since Dover reduced its races to 400 miles from 500 in 1997, racing at the Monster Mile has been much more interesting. We don't need the 600-miler at Lowe's Motor Speedway any more either. The Coca-Cola 5Zer00?

-- Give the cars more brand identity. Chevrolet fans want to see a car that looks like a Chevy. Same with Ford, Dodge and Toyota fans.

-- Find a way to create more passing on the tracks. Single-file racing is boring (see many Formula One races).

-- Loosen the leash on the crew chiefs. Get the c-word (creativity, not cheatin') back in the sport.

Nice job, NASCAR

Nice touch to stop the rain-plagued Coca-Cola 600 on Monday to observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day. Crew members lined up along the pit wall to pay tribute to the military.

Stewart: Butt out

Not only is Tony Stewart having a successful season in his first year as a co-owner, he's continuing to provide priceless interviews.

A Fox Sports camera focused on Stewart and David Reutimann chatting on pit road during a rain delay in the Coca-Cola 600. Suddenly, a Reutimann crew member joined the conversation. There was no audio, but Stewart's dismissive expression toward the crewman captured the mood.

After Stewart climbed back into his car, he told a TV interviewer that Reutimann had been racing him too hard for 10th place early in the race.

"He says he gets it, but I'm not sure he does," Stewart said. "Then he's got a bald crew guy who wants to jump up and be Billy Bad Butt."

The crewman Stewart referred to is Dwayne Bigger. Look for "Billy Bad Butt" T-shirts soon at a souvenir stand near you.

Proving there were no hard feelings, Stewart called to congratulate Reutimann after he won the rain-shortened race.

"Tony Stewart in many ways is one of the guys who has helped me out the most," Reutimann said.

Reutimann is in 13th place in the Cup point standings, only six points behind Mark Martin. The top 12 drivers through 26 races qualify for the Chase.

R. Gordon's mood change

Robby Gordon's smiles over his third place in the Coca-Cola 600, his best finish since a fifth at Watkins Glen 2 years ago, were short-lived.

NASCAR yesterday penalized Gordon with the loss of 50 driver and 50 owner points after officials found Gordon's No. 7 Toyota had equipment in the rear housing that does not conform to NASCAR rules.

Kirk Almquist, Gordon's crew chief, was fined $50,000 and placed on probation until Dec. 31.

AUTISM SPEAKS 400

Dover International Speedway

Dover, Del.

When: 2 p.m. Sunday

TV/Radio: Fox/WNPV (1440-AM), WDSD (94.7-FM)

Race course: 1-mile oval

Race distance: 400 laps/400 miles

Last year's race winner: Kyle Busch

Last year's pole winner: Greg Biffle, 155.214 mph

Track qualifying record: Jeremy Mayfield, 161.522 mph (June 2004)

Track facts: Carl Edwards was runner-up in last year's race; Greg Biffle was third. Biffle won the fall race at the track . . . Edwards has finished in the top three in the last five Dover races . . . Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin have the most wins (four) at Dover among active drivers . . . Twelve different drivers have won the last 12 races at Dover . . . Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 19th in points, 203 points out of the 12th and final Chase qualifying spot . . . Clint Bowyer's 36th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 dropped him four places, to 17th in points.

Wins: Kyle Busch, 3; Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin, 2 each; Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, David Reutimann, 1 each.

SPRINT CUP STANDINGS

1. Jeff Gordon (1 last week) 1722

2. Tony Stewart (2) 1678, -44

3. Kurt Busch (3) 1607, -115

4. Jimmie Johnson (4) 1594, -128

5. Denny Hamlin (5) 1575, -147

6. Kyle Busch (7) 1540, -182

7. Ryan Newman (8) 1538, -184

8. Jeff Burton (6) 1472, -250

9. Matt Kenseth (10) 1460, -262

10. Greg Biffle (9) 1448, -274

11. Carl Edwards (12) 1431, -291

12. Mark Martin (11) 1428, -294

13. David Reutimann (15) 1422, -300

14. Juan Montoya (14) 1397, -325

15. Kasey Kahne (16) 1351, -371

Up next: Pocono 500, June 7, Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa., 2 p.m.; TV: TNT.