Doin The Wiggle

CONCORD, N.C. - Driving a stock car takes nerves, a steady hand and a heavy right foot. This year, at least on tracks other than Daytona and Talladega, it might require an extra dose of the wiggles.

Wiggling is exactly what the rear ends of most of the cars on the track beginning Feb. 27 at California Speedway will be doing. NASCAR cut the spoiler a full inch across the top, thereby reducing downforce across the board. New, softer tires will also be added to the mix, and that is supposed to help the racing and rid the teams of aero push.

Aero push, for those of you who have been away from the sport since about 1998, is what happens when you come up behind a slower car and attempt to pass, only to have the front of your car slide like a snowplow in Montana. With less downforce, the theory goes, the cars won't be so stuck to the track and therefore will be able to pass without an act of Congress.

What it means to the drivers is an increase in the phenomenon known as pucker factor, and to the crew chiefs it will double the number of Goody's Headache Powder boxes in the transporter. Trying to find the balance on this year's car is like trying to find your contact lens in the hotel swimming pool: it's theoretically possible, but extremely unlikely.

While the actual work toward coming to grips with this year's setup has been under way for months, it will be interesting to see what will happen once California pops up on the schedule. California is a forgiving track, with several grooves and plenty of room for improvisation, so the reality will likely not be as dire as all that.

The new aero rules are a continuation of last year's three-quarter-inch reduction in spoiler height, and as Nextel Cup Series Director John Darby quipped, he's reasonably sure somebody is going to win at California and again at Las Vegas. He's right. He also said that the teams who do the best job of finding the balance on the new setup will be successful, and those that are a little slower on the former will likely also be slower on the track.

It will be fun to see what happens at California and Las Vegas. Darby said that last year, teams were screaming that the cars were so loose they couldn't drive them. After a few races, the screaming had been reduced to grumbles, and by the sixth race it was gone altogether. That is likely what will happen again this year, too.

Even so, do not lose sight of the fact that this is the put-up-or-shut-up year in terms of NASCAR's television contracts. Ratings are solid, and it should be a no-brainer for NASCAR to get another billion-dollar contract from FOX and NBC/TNT or whomever else steps up, but the fact that competition is being addressed so forcefully should be considered a way to cement a good TV deal going forward.

Besides, who really wants to watch snowplows race?

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2005

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