The Dodge Intrepid R/T will be allowed to extend its front air dam two inches forward below the bumper from the current measurement beginning with the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. NASCAR announced the rule change on July 27 after all Dodge teams had completed their tests at the famous 2.5-mile track. Dodge team members share their opinions on the potential impact of the rule change.
DOUG RANDOLPH (Crew chief No. 93 Amoco Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I think it's definitely going to be a little better for us. We spent two days up there testing and got our balance worked out. It's going to be a learning process, and the quicker our learning curve is the better off we'll be. I think it's going to take the teams awhile to get it worked out. I don't know if it'll be heads and tails better than what we have. We're talking about the same kick the Chevrolets have, so I don't think there's anything outlandish in it. It's pretty obvious that's where these Dodges have been hurting, the fast high-banked tracks where downforce isn't quite as important, the Dodges seem to be running comparable with everybody else. The flat tracks where it really takes the downforce, the Dodges haven't been able to keep up. I think it's going to make us more competitive at those places.
"We've got an hour practice Friday and an hour practice Saturday before we qualify. When we tested up there, we did mainly qualifying stuff. We went to race stuff at lunch time the second day and then it rained it out. We were really planning on doing race runs Friday and qualifying runs Saturday. With this rule change, we're going to have to change our plans a little bit. It might help a little in qualifying. Where the downforce will really help you on the flat tracks is on old tires when everything gets slipping and sliding. That's when it pays off.
"When we talk about balance in the wind tunnel, we do it in percentage from front to rear. It's going to change the percentage quite a bit. We'll have to do something in the rear if we find the balance we like. Whether it's run the spoiler way up or what to try to get the balance back.
"NASCAR for the past 10 or 15 years, that's what they're all about " trying to make the competition equal. It's a constant process. Every year we get a couple of different rule changes. This year it's Dodge. Dodge got the rule change. Ford got the rule change on the superspeedways, the narrower spoilers and shorter roof spoiler, so it's give and take. Everybody wants to give nothing and take it all. It doesn't matter which manufacturer you work with."
TOMMY BALDWIN (Crew chief No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I think we're OK in qualifying because it puts the balance where we need it. Once we untape the cars, it shifts the balance so much to the back of the car that we have a bad time helping the car turn. I think this will help us be competitive week in and week out. We learn some other things at our Indy test that we applied at Pocono. Hopefully we learned some things at Pocono that will help us at Indy. I think that pulling out the nose is going to help us get more aerodynamically balanced than we were. We don't have a lot of practice time to get ready for it at Indy, but we've got what we've got and we'll have to make the best of it."
ANDY GRAVES (Team Manager Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Dodge Intrepid R/Ts)
"You don't have to use the rule change. I've heard some people complaining that they didn't think it was right. I'm just thankful NASCAR finally gave us something. I'm not worried about the timing. No one says you have to do it. If someone is going to complain that bad about not being able to test it, then go up there with what you've got. Chip Ganassi and myself and Tony Glover (team manager) talked about it and we're either going to find a balance real quick or it's going to take us a couple of weeks. Once we find that balance and keep working with it, it'll be better in the future. Whether or not it's going to pay dividends the next couple of weeks or not, I'm not sure.
"We haven't won a race, but I don't think we've gone out publicly and whined and cried and threw a tantrum. We all know we have to keep working. We're just here to race. Whatever NASCAR gives us, we'll take. They've got the best show in town and they do a good job of policing it.
"I don't think it's going to help us at all in qualifying, but in racing, when we get up behind other cars, I think it's going to help us quite a bit. It'll help us keep more front downforce on the nose of the car so we don't get real tight behind other people. That's basically the situation we're in right now. When we get out in the clear, we're fine, but when we get out behind other cars, we push real bad. I know all makes get tighter behind cars, but it seems like our cars probably get tighter than most. You get up behind a car and you don't have any air on the front of the car. You need more front.
"It should help the overall picture as far as the race goes, restarts, cold tires, and even longer in the run. Across the board, I think it's going to be a plus.
Jason (Leffler) has got a bunch of miles up there (at Indy) testing IRL cars. It took him a little while to figure out that stock cars are going to take a different line around that place, but the second day he really adapted well. I know he's excited about going up there. Hopefully we'll give him a good car and we'll have a good finish.
"We're all going to work as hard as we can next week to cut down the learning curve as much as possible. I wouldn't be surprised if it takes us two weeks to get sorted out what we need to do with the cars with the new nose on it. It may even take longer. It may mean cutting off bodies and redoing bodies to accommodate the rule change. I really don't think it's going to matter much at Watkins Glen, maybe just a slight bit. It'll help a bunch at Michigan. We were pretty good up there the first time. We just happened to get out front and stay up there with the top three or five cars the whole race. I think it'll help Michigan, Indy, Homestead. Those places should really pay off for us.
"The top three are pulling away, and those three guys have some momentum right now, but we can't give up. We're still shooting for the top three in points and the goal is still championship. I know Alan Kulwicki came back from a bigger deficit than we're at right now in fewer races. We're just goi ng to keep working at it. Right now, we're not really wrapped up in this championship hunt. We're just trying to go out and win races every week and do the best job we can and get the best finishes we can and let the points fall as they come."
LARRY McREYNOLDS (Consultant Petty Enterprises Dodge Intrepid R/Ts)
"It's definitely going to increase front downforce, but I'm going to take a step back in time. The very first time they gave it to the Monte Carlos, we went to Atlanta and kicked their butt (McReynolds with Mike Skinner and 31 team). We were leading with 17 laps to go and the rod bolt broke. It increases front downforce dramatically. The extra two inches is exactly what the Chevys got last year between Vegas and Atlanta. But, it's the old scenario 'be careful what you ask for you might get it.' There's no question those Dodges need it, but can these race teams that just spent two days testing there go home and kick that valence out and go to Indy and solve all the problems of the world? No way. No different than we could at Atlanta. The higher speed race tracks, especially the banked race tracks, which would not be Indy, but I'm going to go to Michigan. You've got to be careful because if we pin the noses too much.... We've got to make sure we don't throw the balance off. It's going to take a different package. It may take a little different front springs. It may take a little more wedge. We won't know that realistically until we practice on Friday at Indy.
"When they handed that rule down to us after Vegas last year, we couldn't get home fast enough and get it all pushed out on the Atlanta car. We got to Atlanta and the 'oh my' factor figured in there until we got some stuff figured out. We had to tune on it a bunch. It was not just a matter of kicking that valence out and going and getting the job done.
"We were just fortunate. Dale (Earnhardt) won the race. We were going to win the race. We figured it out at a pretty rapid pace, but we had to work on it feverishly.
"In 1995 with Dale Jarrett driving the 28 car, we went to Indianapolis and we ended up third behind Earnhardt and Rusty. With 20 laps to go, we were probably two-thirds the distance of the front straightaway behind Rusty. We didn't have as good of a green flag stop as those guys had on the last pit stop. We ran them two guys down in 10 laps. I looked at Robert Yates and said, 'this is going to be pretty easy.' It didn't happen. We got there and couldn't go any further. You've got to be careful at a place like Indy and not make the cars too aero dependent. When you get behind a car, you lose a lot of that because you lose your front downforce.
"Todd Parrott and I went back there the next year with the 88 and 28 and we went there with the mindset that we were going to give it adequate downforce but when we get in practice, when we get ready to race, we're going to make these things turn with chassis and not aero. We've got the chassis all the time, but we don't have aero all the time. That's what we did and we ran first and second. We worked hard at that.
"Is this going to solve all the problems for Dodge? No. If you've got 200 pounds of front downforce in the configuration you're in and you get behind a car, you've only got 100 pounds. With the valence pulled out, you've got 300 pounds and if you get behind a car and have 200, then you're ahead of the game. It's going to be better in traffic, too, but I don't think we can go to Indy and say this is going to fix our problems. This is going to make us where we don't push behind other cars because it's probably not. It's not going to be completely the answer.
"When I was with Chevrolet and watched the Fords and Pontiacs get something, you'd read my quotes. You don't want to see anybody get anything that might help them. That's taking break off your table. Is it going to take the Dodges from one level to the next? No. Maybe it'll get 'em closer. This sport needs Dodge to win a race this year. This sport needs Bill Elliott to win a race this year. This sport needs the 43 car to win a race. It needs a Dodge to win. I think this is going to help."
GREG STEADMAN (Crew chief No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"Hopefully it should help us a lot during the race. It should help us with the front downforce. We'll just have to figure out how to get through qualifying. We'll be able to figure it out for the race. I'm not worried about it. You can't be worried. It's just a car. How complicated could it be?"
SAMMY JOHNS (Team Manager No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"The guys back at the shop have been working their butts off getting the cars ready for Indy. I think they painted them Sunday. It should help. A Dodge hasn't won this year. Nobody really knows what to expect. We're expecting a change in balance. I think we can adapt to it. I think it's going to help more in the race. We seem to get real tight behind other cars, probably more than the other makes. All we worked on at the Indy test was qualifying. We didn't do any race run stuff. I don't think it's going to mess us up too bad. We've got a rookie driver going to Indy for the first time, so we're going to have to learn with him anyway. The whole team is getting better. They're working better together. The guys at the shop are keeping us ahead where we can come home and pay attention to detail on the cars. That's been the biggest help. We're looking to go have a good run at Indy. Casey had a good run at Pocono and qualified good. We feel like if you can run good at Pocono, you can run good at Indy."