NASCAR Loose With Change

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Only five days after holding a press conference at Darlington Raceway to announce they expected no forthcoming rules changes to the Winston Cup Series cars, officials with NASCAR announced Thursday they were changing the rules for the upcoming Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

“We are not anticipating any rules changes at Talladega,” NASCAR President Mike Helton said last Saturday. “We are looking at different things as we normally do, but we are not anticipating any changes at the next restrictor-plate race at Talladega.”

So guess what?

A new rule change for Talladega.

When the Winston Cup tour rolls into Talladega, Ford and Dodge teams will have their rear spoilers reduced by two inches, from its current configuration at 59 inches down to the newly-mandated 57 inches of width for the April 22 race. With the change, now all four Winston Cup car brands, including Chevrolet and Pontiac, will have their rear spoilers at a uniform 57 inches.

In addition, the Dodge teams must also make a small tweak in their air deflector on the roof, from a current “bent” shape to form a straight line. That move was done to silence some concerns over the Dodge teams who, in their first race back into Winston Cup competition, swept the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 in February.

“When you give somebody a little bit, they make it even better and I think that's the case with the Dodge,” says Jeff Burton crew chief Frankie Stoddard. “NASCAR gave them a box and it turned out to be a little bit better (than what they thought it was going to be), but you've got to give NASCAR credit. They didn't know going in where the Dodge was going to be, but they've evaluated everything through some wind tunnel research and they're doing no different today than what they've done in the past.

“When they see an imbalance through data on the race track and data in the wind tunnel, they come back and try to make the racing a little bit closer.”

The height of the Dodge air deflector remains 1-3/8 inches tall, as will the other three car makes.

Chevrolet teams had won the first four races of the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season prior to Ford driver Dale Jarrett’s victory Sunday at Darlington. Last year’s Talladega races produced two Chevrolet victories thanks to Jeff Gordon and the late Dale Earnhardt.

According to Ford team owner Robert Yates, the move by NASCAR was one that was needed in order for his teams of Jarrett and Ricky Rudd to be competitive.

“When they made those Daytona and Talladega rules last year, that just took us out of the picture,” Yates said. “We were not in the race at Talladega or Daytona. We were not even in the lottery. You've got to be able to lead races to win races, so this rules change sounds good because we needed it. Anything less than that would still have us somewhat handicapped. We've still got to work hard, but that at least gives us a shot to run good.”

The Chevy and Pontiac teams, of course, think NASCAR's changes were uncalled for.

"We're disappointed. It's going to help the Ford out a lot on the superspeedways," said James Ince, crew chief on Johnny Benson's No. 10 Pontiac. "I'm not sure why NASCAR did what it did today. Pontiac hasn't won a race this year and NASCAR hasn't helped us out. The Fords have whined and it's paying off. We were the best Pontiac at two superspeedways last year and got outran by the Fords. It's not going to effect the Pontiac at Talladega, but this will surely help the Ford and hurt the Dodge. I didn't think Ford needed any help. Fortunately we go to Bristol this weekend where we don't have to worry too much about aerodynamics."

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