NASCAR took the top-finishing examples of each car make to the wind tunnel following last weekend's Atlanta race to see how they performed aerodynamically.
Tony Stewart's No. 20 Pontiac, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 8
Chevrolet, Ward Burton's No. 22 Dodge and Ricky Craven's No. 32 Ford were tested, and "unofficial" leaks indicate that Chevrolets scored last in each of the downforce tests. However, NASCAR made no changes to the current rules, and predictably, the Chevy folks have already pegged the Whine-o-meter. Doug
Duchardt, GM's NASCAR Group Manager, expressed disappointment with NASCAR's lack of action on Chevrolet's behalf, noting, "We certainly remember how quickly NASCAR moved prior to the Daytona 500 to help Dodge and Ford. With
the data from Monday's test and the precedent set in Daytona, we expected consistent and equitable treatment this week. The data received Monday indicates that we are dealing with a 10 percent downforce discrepancy between the Dodge and Chevrolet, which is a significant and evident amount in this
Apparently, Duchardt and the other GM folks believe that NASCAR's "level playing field" is a little tilted. However, the Chevys showed pretty well in Friday's Darlington qualifying session, so maybe NASCAR isn't so far off the mark, after all.
Stewart's dominating performance at Atlanta last weekend may have kept Pontiac alive as a competitor in NASCAR. In fact, if not for an engine failure early in the Daytona 500, Stewart might well be leading in the points right now! Stewart's team, Joe Gibbs Racing, has been contemplating a switch to Chevy, which would probably have resulted in GM pulling the plug on Pontiac involvement in Winston Cup entirely.
That would be a shame, given that there is a new Pontiac model in development for 2003. It is destined to replace the six-year-old design which Stewart's crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, has reportedly requested antique license plates for.
Also in favor of Pontiac and Joe Gibbs is the fact that they are fielding Bobby Labonte's green car in today's St. Patrick's Day race at Darlington!
However, he's facing some tough competition. Jeff Gordon is starting from the outside pole, so he won't have to work his way through the field this time.
Although I had picked Gordon as the favorite early in the season (and with good reason), I'm starting to think that Sterling Marlin could give him a run for his money this year, if the team can just keep him in the car on red flags! And as if the early season yellow flag/red flag situations didn't create enough confusion, there's the new NASCAR rule on pit-speed penalties.
Instead of separate penalties for too-fast-entering and too-fast-leaving, NASCAR instead will mandate "pass-throughs" for either infraction. A penalized driver must come back on pit road at pit-road speed, without making a stop. Further speeding may result in a stop-and-go. Just remember, if you don't like NASCAR's rules, just wait until the next race -- they're sure to
In the world of open wheel racing the upcoming Indy Racing League event at California Speedway will feature one of CART's stars. Jimmy Vasser will use the race to test his Rahal Racing ride in preparation for the team's assault on the Indy 500. The California race, which recently signed Yamaha motorcycles as title sponsor, will be the third race in the 2002 season for
the IRL. There are 28 cars entered, the most since the 2000 season Las Vegas race.
Former series Champion Greg Ray and female race Sarah Fisher are not on the entry list, but could be added to the field.
Also, an engine manufacturer with one of the best pedigrees in the business has announced that it will build 3.5 liter normally aspirated engines for the 2003 CART rules. Cosworth Engineering will probably not badge the engine as a Ford, as the Blue Oval folks have taken a hard stance against the new engine formula. Cosworth plans to be able to supply engines for six to eight cars
for the first season. If it is successful, can a foray into the IRL be far behind for Cosworth?
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.