Idaytona Notebook:/I Ford Change

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Ford teams in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series have gotten their wish.

Early Sunday evening following the Bud Shootout at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR announced that, effective Tuesday, it would change the aerodynamic rules for next Sunday’s Daytona 500 by taking a quarter-inch off the spoilers of the Tauruses.

The change comes after less-than stellar results by the Ford teams in both qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Saturday and the Bud Shootout on Sunday. Only two Fords (Dale Jarrett 13th and Ricky Rudd 15th) qualified in the Top 20 on Saturday and only two Fords finished in the Top 10 in the Bud Shootout (Jarrett sixth and Todd Bodine 10th).

The Taurus spoiler now stands at six inches tall. The Chevy spoilers stand at 6 1/4 inches and the Dodge and Pontiac teams have spoilers at 6 1/2 inches.

Prior to the beginning of the off-season, the spoilers of all makes were equal at 6 1/2 inches. During the off-season, NASCAR shaved a quarter-inch off the spoilers of the Chevys, prompting outcry from the Ford teams.

Pre-season testing in January brought less-than-satisfactory results for the Fords, which prompted NASCAR to shave a quarter-inch off the Taurus spoiler shortly thereafter.

The past three days at Daytona haven't produced any better results for the Fords, and NASCAR responded to the problem Sunday evening, in preparation for Thursday's Twin 125-mile qualifying races.

"This gives us a chance on Thursday to see what this action will bring," said NASCAR President Mike Helton. "We've see all along that we would try to adjust things to try and get it right as quickly as we could. Yesterday's qualifying and today's race results are the first facts that we know for certain about. We're making these changes based on the results on the racetrack during the three days we've been in Daytona."

Helton said Sunday's Bud Shootout produced some "interesting" racing.

"I thought it had a lot of racing action in it," Helton said. "(Jeff) Gordon moved up from 22nd to third during the day, and the different movements going on were interesting to watch. I think the action was good and the drivers said that after they came off the track."

Rumors had swirled about changes to the the size of the restrictor plates as well, and Helton said that would not be ruled out but that change was "not on the short list" of things for NASCAR to consider right now.

In addition, Helton said the yellow line rule, which caused controversy when Tony Stewart was penalized for going below it during last July's Pepsi 400 at Daytona, would stay in effect.

The change brought an obvious positive response from the Ford camp.

"That should help because we've known all along that the problem area we have is too much drag," Jarrett said. "I hope this does the trick and I applaud NASCAR for realizing that we had a need and for taking the initiative to make the change. This should give us a chance in the Daytona 500."

"We've worked extremely hard, we didn't sit back or sand bag," said Robert Yates, owner of both Jarrett's and Rudd's Fords. "My good ol' buddy Rick Hendrick can get his towel out and cry about it all he wants to, but the bottom line is that physics is hurting us. Thank goodness NASCAR is making some adjustments for that. There are a lot of good Ford teams and a lot of other teams that are good, but you can't erase too much of a handicap."

Shawna Looking Good
Don’t look now, but Shawna Robinson is looking pretty good for making her first Daytona 500 start.

Robinson, in her first season in the No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge, qualified 30th out of 53 cars Saturday at Daytona International Speedway during time trials for the “Great American Race.”

She’ll start from the 15th row in her 125-mile qualifying race on Thursday, but more importantly, her fast lap of 182.734 mph appears to be a solid speed in getting her in the field for next Sunday’s race.

Robinson has no owner points from a year ago to fall back on for a provisional.

“I’ve got to give all the credit to the team,” said Robinson, who made her first Winston Cup start in 2001 at Michigan International Speedway. “They have been through so much getting ready. We just couldn’t seem to run better than a .50 (a 50-second lap) the whole time we tested here. That’s what we were hoping for.

“We wanted a good starting spot for the 125s and then the race. We’ve been looking for that speed for a long time. If we really knew where it came from, we’d go back and find some more. We never really got in a good, solid qualifying run in testing, so a lot of it comes from that. We knew we should pick up some, and that’s what we needed to do.”

Bodine in Good Position
Another driver who came into Saturday’s qualifying session in a precarious position but came out in good shape was Geoffrey Bodine. His No. 09 Ford team, too, has no owner points from last year to fall back on and must make the race via his 125-mile qualifier or on time.

The Top 2 positions were determined on Saturday, with rookie Jimmie Johnson taking the pole and Kevin Harvick taking the outside of Row 1. Positions 3-30 will be determined through the finishing order of the 125-mile qualifiers on Thursday (minus the Top 2). Positions 31-36 will be determined from the top remaining qualifying times, and positions 37-43 will be awarded provisionals, based on last year’s owner points.

Bodine’s Ford, owned by James Finch and crew chiefed by Marc Reno, qualified 29th Saturday with a fast lap of 182.734 mph.

“That was a little quicker than what we practiced with this car and everybody did a great job,” Bodine said. “It’s a really good car. The Bud Shootout car is running good and we appreciate the Miccosukee Indian Tribe for sponsoring us and we hope everything goes good this next week-and-a-half here at Daytona. A couple of years ago it didn’t go too well for me, but we’re looking for better things this time.”

In 2000, Bodine came to Daytona with a Winston Cup ride and an entrant into the Craftsman Truck Series event. The CTS race, however, proved to be a disaster as he suffered through one of the worst wrecks in recent memory at the track. Subsequent injuries kept him out of his Winston Cup car for a good portion of the season, and he wound up losing the ride.

He was able to secure a ride in the No. 66 Phillips 66 Chevy in the Busch Series for several races last season, but lost that ride at the end of the year and was once again scrambling to keep his racing career afloat.

Bodine’s team is planning a limited schedule in Winston Cup this season, but he’s hoping for more.

“Right now we’re planning on running five races,” Bodine said. “We’re looking for more sponsorship and, hopefully, we’ll run Indianapolis and maybe Richmond, a California – some flat tracks. I’d like to run all the races, but right now, we’re just doing what we can and I’m so thankful to be back here.”

Anchors Aweigh
Jack Roush always finds a way to find sponsorship for his vehicles. On Sunday morning, he announced that his No. 50 Ford F-150 in the Craftsman Truck Series, driven by Jon Wood, will be sponsored by the U.S. Navy during the 2002 season.

The 20-year-old Wood, who made 15 starts for Roush Racing in 2001 in his first real foray into the series, said he’s excited about the Navy sponsorship in more ways than one.

“It’s a great honor for me to be able to wear the colors of the U.S. Navy,” Wood said. “And I’m very excited about the Navy’s association with our truck program. I am confident about our chances during the 2002 season and will give them my best effort every time our truck is on the track.

“Also, now I can call home and ask Mom if I can get one of those Betty Boop tattoos on arm.”

A group of U.S. sailors were present for the announcement, and Roush warned Wood about giving out any autographs.

“Make sure you don’t sign anything that those guys give you,” Roush joked, implying that if he did, he would have to serve in the Navy for a period of time.”

Roush said he’s still exploring sponsorship opportunities for his No. 99 Ford. Tim Fedewa will run the truck in the race at Daytona, but beyond that, the status of the team is unknown.

Best of Both Worlds
Eric Wilson has got it good. Not only is he a crew member for Ricky Craven’s No. 32 Tide Ford, but he also is able to race in his spare time. He got in a little racin’ Saturday afternoon, when he finished third in his No. 4 Old Milwaukee/John Boy and Billy Pontiac in the Daytona USA 150 Goody’s Dash Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

Wilson previously fielded a car for Doc Brewer and the John Boy & Billy race team, but this year a driver spot opened up and Eric found himself behind the wheel. He works on the cars from his shop, based at his house in Hickory, N.C.

As the Dash race got underway, Wilson was welded to the draft for the first 20 laps, in which it seemed no car was going to have a clear advantage.

“The first ten laps were just crazy, side by side and three abreast,” he said. “We settled down, got single file for most of the rest of the race. We bounced around from 7th to 10th until our stop. I don’t know what happened on our stop, but we came out 14th. Luckily, I got hooked up with (Robert) Huffman and we worked our way back up to 2nd.”

Wilson said he thought he had a shot to win the race, but a green-white-checkered flag finish hampered his efforts.

“Yeah, I actually passed Huffman coming off of Turn 2 and had a hundred yard lead on the backstretch, but they came back and swarmed me,” Wilson said. “We were going for it. On the white flag lap, I went low and a couple of them went with me. We were banging coming off of turn four and I ended up third.”

Sleeping at Camp Hornaday
The front row of the Daytona 500 spent time at a unique location before hitting the big-time in Winston Cup racing: Ron Hornaday’s couch.

Both Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are from California, and Hornaday, another California native, mentored both. Harvick was the first to take up residence on Hornaday’s couch, sleeping there in 1997 when he was in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

“Hornaday was pretty much set and going toward what he wanted to accomplish,” Harvick said. “He had a very stable background, and he took me under his wing. I stayed there for probably six months, living on his couch.”

Not long after Harvick left, Johnson came calling on “Camp Hornaday.”

“I wanted to pursue stock-car racing,” Johnson said. “I had met Ron at a Chevrolet function in Detroit. He said, ‘If you’re ever in the area and need a place to stay, call me.’ I landed at Charlotte airport and called him and said, ‘Hey, buddy, you told me I could stay on your couch. Am I still welcome?’ He and (wife) Lindy both welcomed me with open arms. They wouldn’t let me move out until I could buy a house and that was not possible. He even helped me find the house we bought.

“I stayed there for about two or three months. He’s been a huge help for my career in a lot of ways, on and off the track. Ron’s helped a lot of drivers. He’s had a variety of them on his couch. There’s two on the front row for the Daytona 500.”

Petty Engine Woes
Kyle Petty had been fast in Friday’s practices, but he never had a chance to show it during Saturday’s qualifying as Petty blew an engine before his lap. Petty Enterprises had flown down some engines Friday night, but they were installed in the cars of John Andretti and Buckshot Jones.

Neither of those drivers had trouble, but Petty will have to try again in Monday’s second round.

“We’ll go back and check and see what we’ve got,” Petty said. “We’ll try again Monday. It’s no big deal. John picked up a bunch from practice, and so did Buckshot. We’ll get those two cars in the race and worry about this one later.”

Saturday’s session was the first time the Petty cars used engines from Mike Ege Racing Engines, the Petty’s new supplier.

“This will be our first deal,” Petty said. “We have tested Mike’s stuff all winter long. We took all of our engines and gave them to Mike. They took those engines and did variations on them, whether it would be their set of heads on our block or their block with our set of heads. That way you could see and you could definitely say, ‘This worked, this was better, this was worse.’ ”

Petty said he wasn’t worried about reliability, but he’d better hope Saturday was the last time he has engine trouble.

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