Pontiac Gets Aero Break

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Pontiac teams, which have complained for more than a year about their older-model car, finally got an aerodynamic rules break for the Grand Prix. The rear spoiler was increased and the front air dam received a “kickout.”

Beginning with this weekend’s Sirius Satellite Radio 400 at Michigan International Speedway, the Pontiac’s rear spoiler will be raised a quarter-inch to 7 1/8th inches, while the leading edge of the front air dam can be moved forward a half-inch.

“It’s a step in the right direction by NASCAR that I hope makes the Pontiacs a little more competitive,” Johnny Benson said. “They are really hard to drive right now. If you can get a Pontiac running by itself on the track then it is semi-OK, but once you get it into traffic it is just terrible. The Pontiac won’t turn and it slides all over the race track and that’s because there isn’t enough downforce. All the Pontiac drivers say the same thing. Now, all the makes claim they don’t have enough downforce but they have an inch-and-a-half more front nose kickout than the Pontiac does, so you can see the Pontiac is hurting in that area.”

The new measurements should help with the Pontiac’s overall downforce, which Grand Prix teams say have been severely lacking. Pontiac is working on a new Grand Prix for the 2003 season to replace the seven-year old model currently competing on the Winston Cup Series.

“I ran this style Pontiac in 1996 so it’s a good car but an old car,” Benson said. “Sure we are looking forward to the new model in 2003, but until then we just have to get through the rest of this season with the car that we have. Getting some help is a positive for the Pontiacs. It’s been close to a year since we have had a rule change where the other makes seem to get changes right away. So this is pleasing that we get a rule change that gets us closer to where the other cars are. We don’t want an advantage we just want to be able to compete with the other makes.”

Compton drove a Dodge for Melling Racing last year, and the Intrepid was granted a kickout to the nose that Compton said “turned our season around.”

“Granted, they gave us a lot more than what they’re giving us now, but it just made the car drive so much different to where you could drive them in traffic,” Compton said. “You didn’t have to worry about an aero push. Right now, we have to run the car so free to make them work and to even keep up, that by the end of the run you’re starting to chase it a little bit.”

“I think what it will do is give us a little more balance, and balance wins races.”

Tony Stewart, the highest ranked Pontiac driver in the points standings, has won twice this season. One of those victories was at the high-downforce Atlanta Motor Speedway, but Stewart has voiced his opinion that the Grand Prix doesn’t match other cars aerodynamically.

“It’s just overall,” Stewart said. “You go in the corner and it’s tight, and you get on the gas and try and come off of the corner and it’s loose. That’s just total downforce, because The Home Depot Pontiac is typically really good without any changes. So it wasn’t a bad set of tires. The tires have been pretty consistent all year.

“The only thing that’s left is downforce. You hate to gripe about it, but all of these teams are spending a lot of money going to wind tunnels. They’re not just out there watching the wind blow around them. They’re making their cars better and better, and it’s making the aero side of this business more important.”

Pontiac is last in the manufacturer’s standings but also has the smallest number of cars. Currently, only Stewart and Bobby Labonte from Joe Gibbs Racing, Ken Schrader and Benson from MBV Motorsports and Compton from A.J. Foyt Racing use the Grand Prix.

Those five teams have scored about 13 percent fewer points that through this point of the season last year. Stewart is plus-29 points from 2001, but every other team has lost points.

“Everything we were able to do last year we can’t use any more,” said James Ince, Benson’s crew chief. “Hopefully this will move us in the right direction, and in the dirty air our cars will be better. An airplane flies a lot better on a sunshiny day than in a thunderstorm, and what we have been racing in all year is a thunderstorm.”

Pontiac has three victories this season, but two are on short tracks: Labonte’s win at Martinsville and Stewart’s win at Richmond.

The dimensions will not be used at Daytona and Talladega. NASCAR also announced another reduction for the Ford Taurus’ rear spoiler. Before the Daytona 500, NASCAR reduced the Ford spoiler height several times before finally arriving at a 5 ¾-inch height. For Talladega, the spoiler was measured at 6 inches.

For the Pepsi 400 next month, the Ford spoiler will be 5 7/8ths-inches tall. The Chevy and Dodge spoiler will stay at 6 ¼ inches, while the Pontiac will remain at 6 ½ inches.

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