Pontiacs Changes Come At Right Time
June 5, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
As the Winston Cup series travels to Michigan and Pocono in the next two weeks -- both superspeedways of two miles or more -- adequate downforce will be critical to the success of the race teams.
NASCAR has given the Pontiac contingent the option of using a new rear bumper cover, effective at the Kmart 400 at Michigan next weekend.
NASCAR Winston Cup Series Director Gary Nelson said the change was "to even things up dimensionally" among the manufacturers. Although the Pontiac camp was hoping for assistance with both the nose and the tail, the modification of the bumper should help the Grand Prix's downforce considerably.
"We have tested what they approved in a wind tunnel and liked what we saw," said James Ince, crew chief of the No. 10 Tyler Jet Motorsports team. "The new rear bumper helps in that it allows air to escape underneath the car, which makes it a little bit better aerodynamically on the track.
"I said last week that we were about 200 pounds of downforce behind the Chevrolet and Ford, but I think we are getting closer to them."
During this seven-race stretch -- sans a reprieve until after Loudon -- the competition heats up relative to the temperatures of the season. Jimmy Makar's No. 18 Pontiac has been leading the points during nine of the last 12 weeks, but the team has thrived on consistency to maintain its position -- despite the ostensible disparity in the Pontiac's downforce.
"What we have is a step in the right direction," Makar said. "It's probably about 60 percent of what we needed to get the same downforce numbers that the other guys have, but it is certainly going to be a step in the right direction. Seventy-five percent of what we needed was in the rear anyway, so it won't throw us out of balance too much."
Certainly any rules concession is welcome by Makar, whose crew is contending for the Winston Cup championship despite being aerodynamically challenged at larger tracks like Atlanta and Charlotte earlier this season.
Labonte has won just one race this season, but has five career victories at the next two venues, including a sweep of the Pocono races last year.
Makar feels the new rules change should improve the team's chances.
"I think it should, especially on the flat tracks where this should show up a little more," Makar said. "It will be significant at Michigan and Pocono and it sure would have helped us at Charlotte and Atlanta also. I'm hoping it's going to get us back into the ballpark where we don't run second and third and maybe win a couple of these races."
Calamities cause record-breaking cautions: There's a reason why they refer to Dover Downs International Speedway as White Lightning.
The 24-degree-banked concrete corners of Dover lend themselves to fast action, and on Sunday a record-breaking 10 cautions for a total of 58 laps left drivers wondering, "What happened?"
While eight cars fell victim to tire maladies in the Busch race on Saturday, it took just 14 laps in the MBNA Platinum 400 before Jerry Nadeau's name topped the casualty list when he blew his left rear tire on the front stretch.
"I don't know what happened in Turn 2," Nadeau said. "I don’t know if somebody dropped oil or what, but we got wicked loose coming off and tagged the wall."
Rotten rubber robbed Mike Bliss of track position on Lap 43 when the No. 27 Viagra car lost a tire and went spinning in Turn 2. Geoffrey Bodine brought out the sixth caution on Lap 145 after his No. 60 Power Team Chevrolet -- which had run in the top 20 most of the day -- lost a right-front tire coming out of Turn 4 and slammed into the wall at the start-finish line.
"I really don't know what happened," Bodine said. "We jumped sideways on Turn 4 and when that happens, you're going to hit something. We hit the inside wall. I was being so darn careful. The car was going good up to that point."
Jeff Gordon seemed to be the only driver who knew what led to his car slamming into the wall in Turn 4 on Lap 383.
"We came off Turn 4 and a tire popped," Gordon said. "We kept working on the car trying to get it better, and we were getting better. We got a lap down and couldn't get it back, but we were holding our own, and then we cut the tire and messed up the right side of the car. I think we were 11th when it happened, and that sure would have been a better finish than where we ended up.
"It's unfortunate things like that happen, but we all know they do in racing. We'll try to bounce back next week. Michigan is usually a good track for us, so we'll look forward to going up there. I wish we could have had a better finish today, but we learned some things that will help us here next time."
Petty receives royal treatment: Kyle Petty was greeted with a standing ovation from the Dover Downs' fans on Sunday after making his first Winston Cup appearance since the death of his son Adam on May 12.
Petty, whose last win came in this event in 1995, took over the driving duties for his injured teammate John Andretti in the No. 43 Pontiac following the first caution on Lap 14. The crew adjusted the seat from Andretti's slight 5-foot-6 frame to accommodate the 6-foot-2 Petty. Despite falling back two laps, Petty led a lap and posted a 13th-place finish -- his second-best of the season.
"That came out pretty good," said Greg Steadman, crew chief for the Petty Enterprises No. 43 Grand Prix. "We just got a little bit behind on a couple of those runs there. If we had kept him up there in the middle of the day we probably had a good shot of finishing in the top five with him. He just drives this place real well. It's good to see him go out and run real good like that after everything he's been through.
"This was a good job. There are a lot of smiles today."
Andretti, who was sidelined after breaking his rib at Charlotte, was encouraged by Petty's progress.
"I'm ecstatic for Kyle and ecstatic for the 43," Andretti said. "I couldn't drive -- not 100 percent -- and Kyle is really, really good, especially here at Dover. This was a big boost for everybody."
Roush Racing takes a hit in the points: Roush Racing experienced its share of mechanical difficulties on Sunday with Jeff Burton losing his transmission on Lap 44 and his teammate Mark Martin suffering from a blown engine on Lap 269.
Martin’s day was over, but Burton returned to the track and finished 34th, 30 laps down, and dropped one position in points to sixth.
Team owner Jack Roush said the cause of Burton’s misfortune came from "backing up and going forward quickly."
"He wound up with the transmission in first gear and the shifte