In Search Of The Perfect Superspeedway Solution

The 2000 version of the Daytona 500 had only nine lead changes among seven drivers and failed to deliver the excitement fans expect.

NASCAR is still feeling the heat for the lackluster season opener so officials are considering a variety of solutions to solve the problem before teams return to Daytona International Speedway in July.

Drivers have complained about the inability to pass in restrictor plate races when the cars are traveling in notoriously large packs and are concerned with the eminent danger that lurks when a multi-car crash occurs.

Last week, several organizations were approached by NASCAR, including Richard Childress Racing, Roush Racing and Morgan-McClure Motorsports, to take part in a two-day test at Talladega Speedway the Monday following the DieHard 500.

According to NASCAR vice president and chief operating officer Mike Helton, officials hope to address superspeedway concerns after observing the action at Talladega on Sunday. But as of last weekend, Helton wasn't sure whether the teams or drivers would be available considering it is the first week off for some of these teams since before the beginning of the new year.

"There's some questions as to whether or not we're going to be able to pull it off, but what we're looking at is taking some cars and doing some experimenting," Helton said. "We don't want to elaborate until we get through with it. We don't want to talk about it, but we're going to experiment with superspeedway issues."

Would one of the issues open for discussion include slowing the cars down?

"We've been doing that with restrictor plates, if there's another option to look at, that's something that we're always interested in it," Helton added.

The new restrictor plates feature a reduction in diameter of each of the four holes from 29/32 of an inch to 7/8 of an inch. Car owner Jack Roush believes the 1/32 of an inch reduction will equate to a loss of 25 horsepower -- at 400 hp, restrictor plate engines generate barely half the power of non-restricted motors.

Roush is apprehensive about the rules change. He feels the decrease in power will further reduce the importance of driving ability in the racing equation.

"The cars, I think, are too slippery and don't have enough horsepower," Roush said. "NASCAR is at least curious about that based on the fact we're going go down there to test at Talladega on Monday to see if there is a way to make the cars draggy and more equal. That may give us a chance to come back and put enough power back in them so when the driver stands on it, he can recover. He can get off of it and really make it more like a normal racetrack.

"In just a few simple words, I think that the wake the car makes when it goes through the air is too small, it needs to blow a bigger hole in the air and then the cars need to have enough horsepower to be able to respond when the driver pushes on the pedal."

Larry McClure agrees that a driver needs to regain control of his car on the racetrack.

"NASCAR is searching for any way to slow the cars down, but we're waiting until after the race to make a comment," McClure said. "There's a lot of talked about dirtying the cars up and putting on a bigger plate, which seems like a good direction to go in. That would enable the drivers to have more acceleration and punch a bigger hole in the air, which leads to better drafting.

"It puts the driver back into the game rather than holding it wide open, hoping he can stay in line and crossing his fingers that he doesn't get into a wreck. As NASCAR tries things, it's expensive for us, but we all have the same goal -- a safe, exciting race for the fans."

Jim Covey of General Motors does not understand why NASCAR would consider reducing the power further. He doesn't feel that it will lead to better racing.

"It's going to take them three laps to get up to speed for qualifying and it's going to be harder to get out and pass anybody," Covey said. "I don't know what their thought was on that. Whether they thought appealing the new shock rule would speed the cars up enough that they had to find another way to slow that down.

"The engines are so lame right now that I think you need to look at tires or the chassis. You have a 400 horsepower engine right now, I don't know how you would make it any slower. These restrictor plate engines are making less horsepower than a lot of street cars. The trucks went to Daytona with about 700 horsepower and they put on a great show."

GM has developed a new manifold for restrictor plates which has increased the power slightly, but teams will have to incorporate additional resources to get the cars up to speed. One area both GM and Ford Motor Company are researching is the use of aerodynamics. The reason the trucks can carry a higher degree of horsepower is that the trucks are aerodynamically "dirtier" than their sleek Winston Cup counterparts.

Bobby Hutchens, general manager for Richard Childress Racing, is concentrating primarily on the greenhouse (the area that covers the cockpit of a car) to increase the drag and will test an adjustable, larger greenhouse that would be nearly four inches wider and two inches taller than the existing version. He said NASCAR is hoping to add 100 counts of drag to the current cars.

"We're building a complete greenhouse that will fit over the car with spacer blocks underneath it to raise it up and down," Hutchens said. "The Ford guys look at it in drag horsepower, we look at it in drag counts. We have two or three configurations we're looking at to try to develop a good baseline and come in and make some changes.

"After that we'll be cutting up or pushing or pulling something new for them. It's a consortium effort. We'll try to build the drag up and see how the cars drive at the same time. We will try to make the drag equivalent to what our downforce car has now, which would be 100 counts more drag."

Perhaps then, NASCAR would allow the teams to race one engine. Team owner Richard Childress believes following these terms would put less of a financial strain on teams. Most of bigger teams employ additional engineers just to develop restrictor plate engines. Childress has also suggested pulling out the front valence to 88 inches and widening the spoilers. Currently, teams now incorporate a width of 74 to 75 inches on the front valence.

Roush said his group is focusing on the front end to increase the drag of their cars and will use state-of-the-art technology to record and assimilate the data. Roush Racing will experiment with different variables at its tests this week at Daytona and next week at Talladega.

"We're not just looking at the cross sections, but putting some air into the car and making

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