Earnhardt News
2000 Season

Advantage... Ford???
Lee Spencer

(Mar. 1, 2000)
NASCAR returned to the Lockheed wind tunnel on Monday with the top intermediate models from each manufacturer following this weekend's Dura-Lube 400. After reviewing the results, the No. 88 Ford driven by Dale Jarrett was considerably better than both General Motors vehicles -- the No. 3 Chevrolet and Sunday's race winner - Bobby Labonte's No. 18 Pontiac.

Insiders at General Motors were not surprised by the discrepancies between the Tauruses and the Monte Carlos, but they found the slight difference between Chevrolet and Pontiac curious. Greg Zipadelli, who joined fellow Gibb's crew chief Jimmy Makar at Monday's test in Marietta Georgia, doesn't understand what the big deal is regarding Pontiac finishing last in the tunnel. He's known for awhile that the Grand Prix has its limitations.

"We've been telling everyone since last year that we were at a disadvantage on our downforce stuff," said Zipadelli. "So we were told to go and work on our shocks and springs, but they took that away from us at Daytona and it showed."

"The car we had in the tunnel on Monday, that was our latest and greatest, so obviously we have some work to do. Las Vegas is much bigger - more of an aero track. I think we'll know more after we run at Vegas and Atlanta. This past weekend - springs, shocks, tire management - all played a part of why we ran well on Sunday. If we see the same thing at Vegas that we saw two years ago (when Ford swept the top seven finishing spots), then maybe NASCAR will have to look at things in a different light."

With Ford's domination in the Daytona 500 - capturing the front row in qualifying and the top-five finishing positions - as well as posting the top two speeds in last Friday's time trials, the Chevy camp knew it couldn't sit idle. After the Daytona 500 a very smug Todd Parrott gave his bow-tie competitors the following advice, "Stop crying and get to work." Perhaps that is why Hendrick Motorsports R&D honcho Eddie Dickerson was high-tailing it out of Rockingham on Friday, to return to the shop and work on the Monte Carlo's latest defense - a new nose.

Bobby Hutchens, GM for Richard Childress Racing was instrumental in developing the new Monte Carlo that was initially submitted to NASCAR nearly a year ago. The 39-year-old graduate of N.C. State's engineering program, has been working side-by-side with the Hendrick team of Dickerson, Gary Eaker and Ken Howes to find a solution to the Chevy's aero dificiencies. Hutchens also joined the caravan to the wind tunnel and like Zipadelli, could have predicted the final results.

"We weren't a bit surprised," Hutchens said. "They ran the tests and the Fords were significantly stronger. We wanted to do the test just to know where we stacked up against the competition. Now, it's a question of balance: how much in the front and in the rear. We need to look at two things, how to get more front downforce with less drag. Usually you can't produce one without the other.

"If we were racing against last year's Taurus, then I think we would be in the ballpark, but Ford upped the ante. I've been to every wind tunnel test, every track test, everything that has been involved in building the new Monte Carlo and I'm still waiting for someone who would convince me that we could solve the drag problem."

The range of results from the wind tunnel were estimated to be between 1,100 to 1,200 pounds of total downforce measured at 200 miles per hour. In a sport where thousandths-of-a-second determine whether you make the show or go home, a hundred pounds of downforce (nearly nine-percent heavier) is substantial.

NASCAR deserves credit for attempting to achieve parity among the manufacturers -- at $1,750 an hour to test at Marietta - improving the level of competition does not come cheap. Gary Nelson, NASCAR Winston Cup's director of competition has suggested the concept of "aero matching", a politically correct term referring to a system of using common templates to dictate one body style for all three manufacturers.

It's an idea that Hutchens would welcome.

"It would certainly make life easier on the teams," Hutchens said. "There are still things each of the teams could do to distinguish the cars from each other. Having three different makes adds cost to our programs and increases the time we spend away from home. It's hard to go through the first part of the season not knowing what to expect. This is the first time in 12 years that I've been going to Daytona that I honestly felt that the No. 3 car didn't have a chance to win. All we want to do is be even."

So could the new nose be the answer for the Monte Carlo? Richard Childress was certainly lobbying in that direction following Sunday's race.

"We have to do our homework and have all the questions answered from an engineering standpoint before we talk to NASCAR," said Hutchens, who plans on taking the new nose to the wind tunnel for further testing. "On the other hand, this may be just an exercise because NASCAR hasn't made any overtures in our direction yet."


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