Aero Fight Wont Blow Away

With aerodynamics such an important topic these days, the big news of the Pepsi 400 weekend at Michigan International Speedway will undoubtedly be the rules change NASCAR made for the Pontiac and Chevrolet.

Pontiac received a 1/2-inch “kickout” of its nose, while Chevrolet got a full inch. How much of a difference will it make? Is there enough time to even make a difference? Will Ford and Dodge suddenly be out of the picture?

Of course, it depends on whom you ask. But in NASCAR’s ever-changing world of rules, this is another attempt to make the cars as equal as possible. NASCAR announced the change last week, saying the “modifications will be in place for this weekend only, pending further assessment by NASCAR officials.”

That means there probably will be more rules tinkering. Until then, Chevy and Pontiac teams are left to wonder what affect the change will have.

“The rules change that NASCAR gave the Chevrolets at Michigan should help us a little bit because we create so much more drag than the other manufacturers and lack in front downforce,” Monte Carlo driver Robby Gordon said. “Hopefully, it will help out in the downforce department. But it’s going to take awhile before we see a big change in it. If a team hits on something the first couple of races, they will be lucky.”

Other Chevy people don’t see the kickout as much help.

“I don’t think it’s really going to do anything,” said Tony Eury Sr., crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. “(The nose) is so far now, it’s kind of really not doing anything. I think the first 21/2 inches they gave us was a lot. Then we got it out to 3, and we didn’t see a whole lot. Now, we’re not really seeing anything, so I don’t think it’s going to do anything to help us.

“They definitely should’ve taken away from the Fords and Dodges. Our balance is off; their balance is not. They should’ve taken away from them to get their balance like ours. Then we would’ve been more equal. We just have to do what they say.”

Of course, Dodge and Ford disagree with Eury Sr. and NASCAR.

“While from our perspective, this particular change is not one we agree with, we are encouraged that Dodge was not required to modify its cars to solve this issue,” Dodge vice president of motorsports Jim Julow said. “We are coming off three great back-to-back wins, and we have a lot of momentum. This will just make us work that much harder to put a Dodge Intrepid R/T in victory lane at Michigan International Speedway, where we won our first race last year.”

Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin won that race in 2001, and then Matt Kenseth won earlier this season. The Fords of Dale Jarrett and Ryan Newman were second and third, respectively, followed by two Chevys, a Pontiac and four more Fords.

“It’s unfortunate NASCAR decided to do something like this because we feel it’s unwarranted,” Ford NASCAR Winston Cup Program Manager Linas Orentas said. ”When you look at which drivers have led the most laps this season, four of the top five represent General Motors. Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson are first and second in laps led. Tony has won three races and Jimmie has won two, so we don’t feel the data supports their claim that they need help. Michael Waltrip won at Daytona and Kevin Harvick won at Chicago last month, so to say that Chevrolet hasn’t been competitive is simply wrong.”

The Pontiac is the oldest model in Winston Cup and has undergone several aero massages this season.

“It’s going to be better,” said Newt Moore, crew chief for Ken Schrader. “It will put more balance to the front, but will also add some rear (downforce) to it, too. … We haven’t gone out that far with it in the wind tunnel to see what it will do. We’ve been close to it, but we haven’t been out that far. We know it’s going to be better. We know it will be better in the draft. Whatever we can get is good.”

Grand Prix driver Bobby Labonte, who has won three times at Michigan but not since 1999, said Pontiac wanted a little more kickout than it got.

“I’m really not sure what to expect with the rule change NASCAR has allowed for our cars,” Labonte said. “I would love to say that’s what we needed, but I know we were asking for a lot more than we received. I guess we’ll take what we can get and make the best of it.”

The reason for the rule change was to try to even front and overall downforce among the four manufacturers. Chevy contends it is at a disadvantage because the Monte Carlo was designed to put as much downforce in the car as possible. That’s fine, but there’s too much drag, Chevy folks said.

“It’s going to help us in Michigan,” said Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson. “How much, I don’t know, but as long as they keep that rule up through Phoenix, Loudon, Homestead and places like that, it’s really going to help us. It’ll be a big benefit to us there. It’s something that we need, that’s for sure.

“Why they gave to us as opposed to taking away from the others, I don’t know. We’re not only at a downforce disadvantage, but we’re at an aerodynamic drag disadvantage. Anything that we add to our cars just increases our drag. Yes, it’s going to help us, but we’ve also increased our drag a little bit. It hurt us in another area, but it’s definitely something that we needed.”

Wrapped up in the issue of aero balance is the dreaded “aero push” that has become a hot topic this season. With downforce being so important, and the tires harder, Chevy teams had hoped they would have taken downforce away from other makes instead of adding more to their car.

“It’s been very obvious to NASCAR that when you’re behind in traffic, there’s just no way to get to the front,” said Robbie Loomis, crew chief for Jeff Gordon. “If the cars are out front you can usually hang on to the lead pretty good, but the problem with the Dodges and Fords is that they’re a lot better negotiating in traffic.”

Chevy is working on a new model Monte Carlo for 2003, which will basically be an upgrade to the current version.

“We have a balance problem with the (2002) car, which we’ve addressed very nicely with the 2003 Chevrolet, but it’s still 2002,” said Steve Hmiel, director of motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Inc. “We’re working real hard to not forget what we’re doing right now, and to race these particular 2002 Monte Carlos we need to have a little bit more front downforce. That inch will do that; it remains to be seen if that’s enough.

“Being a racer, it’s never going to be enough, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

Staff Writer Lee Montgomery can be reached at lee.montgomery@rmg3.com

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