Earnhardt News
2000 Season

Drivers have a lot on plate
By Godwin Kelly

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (August 16, 2000)
Operation "dirty air" has been declared a success.

NASCAR officials and competitors seemed pleased with the results of Tuesday's Winston Cup aerodynamic test at Daytona International Speedway.

About a dozen teams participated in the test session here as NASCAR attempts to find a combination to improve competition and allow more passing in superspeedway events like the Daytona 500.

The test, which featured an all-star lineup of drivers, was designed to supply NASCAR with information for possible aerodynamic rules changes for Winston Cup events held at Daytona and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

The driver lineup for Tuesday's test included Dale Earnhardt, Mike Skinner, Jeff Gordon and Steve Park in Chevrolets; Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart and Dave Blaney in Pontiacs; and Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd, Chad Little and Jeff Burton in Fords.

"This is the best shot we've had working on a project together for the same reason, and I think we'll be able to create some pretty good results," said Mike Helton, NASCAR's chief operating officer and senior vice president.

Helton monitored the one-day test session with Winston Cup director Gary Nelson and a small team of inspectors.

"We're doing a study on high drag and higher horsepower here at Daytona, trying to understand and educate ourselves, the drivers, the crew chiefs and the engineers, and learn as we go," said Nelson.

It is a complicated issue.

When Bobby Allison's Buick, traveling at more than 200 mph, jumped into the catch fence at Talladega in the 1987 Winston 500, NASCAR decided to slow the cars down on the superspeedways.

In events at the two tracks, all Winston Cup cars now are slowed by a carburetor restrictor plate. The plate is sandwiched between the carburetor and the intake manifold and restricts the flow of air to the engine.

The plates effectively knock 300 horsepower from air-starved motors that normally generate 700 horsepower. Through the years, teams have streamlined cars so dramatically in the search for more speed that it's created an "aero push" effect.

The push - the way the air flows around a car - has made it increasingly difficult for competitors to pass one another during a race. Instead of side-by-side racing and passes for the lead, competitors often have been forced into a lackluster, single-file formation.

"One of the things they're looking at doing is to try to get some more drag in these cars and be able to adjust with more front downforce," car owner Richard Childress said in the days leading up to the test. "That's the key to it. You've got to have more front downforce. It's awful tough to do it with rules like they have it today."

Helton is optimistic.

"We're feeling pretty confident that we'll be able to come up with some rules and regulations as it relates to the aerodynamics of a car that gives restrictor plate races some of the old feel of racing that the competitors and fans are used to at Daytona and Talladega."

Earnhardt, Gordon and Jarrett are the only drivers who have won the Daytona 500 since 1996. All are former Winston Cup champions. Earnhardt, Rudd and Jarrett were the only drivers in the test who raced at Daytona prior to the restrictor-plate era.

"It's been a neat thing to get these guys together and work on a common cause for change," said Helton.

"They've all got some good ideas. We've got a pretty good agenda today that's keeping everybody jumping. They're all chipping in to make headway on some things."

Earnhardt said he hopes NASCAR can devise a new aerodynamic-horsepower package in time for the Winston 500, scheduled Oct. 15 at Talladega. If not, the new rules would take effect for the 2001 Daytona 500.

"We needed to do this," said Earnhardt, an outspoken critic of restrictor plates. "If we can get the throttle response back to the driver and be able to draft back up, we'll make a better race out of it. We've already hit on a few things that I think will be a plus.

"NASCAR is going to fine-tune those ideas and hopefully come back with something for Talladega. We're heading in the right direction. At the end of the day, we need to make it a better race for everybody - the teams, the drivers and the fans. We need to be able to race side-by-side."

NASCAR did not post speeds for Tuesday's test session.



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