Now that the 1999 NASCAR season is over, the focus turns to 2000 and all the changes that have taken place. There are new drivers with new teams, new sponsors and paint schemes, as well as new body styles from Ford and Chevrolet. And then there...
Now that the 1999 NASCAR season is over, the focus turns to 2000 and all the changes that have taken place. There are new drivers with new teams, new sponsors and paint schemes, as well as new body styles from Ford and Chevrolet. And then there is two-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday and his move to the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division.
Hornaday, the all-time leader in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series wins and money, slides into the seat of the No.3 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet at Dale Earnhardt Inc. Gone from the car that produced two-straight championships are sponsor ACDelco, who moved over to Richard Childress Racing's series effort with Kevin Harvick, and it's driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., whom departs for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. But more importantly, the Monte Carlos that "Little E" drove to 13 wins have been replaced with an unproven 2000 body style as well as changes to the chassis itself.
"It's not like we can just jump into Dale Jr.'s cars and say 'All right, here are the notes -- go win,'" Hornaday said. "The cars have changed and we have some homework to do. In fact, all of the teams do."
The changes to the chassis are probably the biggest concerns for Hornaday's new team. NASCAR has mandated changes to the roll cage of the cars to improve safety. The roll bars built into the doors of the cars must now be higher; in order to keep a driver's shoulders inside of the cage. They have also added additional safety bars to the rear of the chassis, as well as adding straight bars to the front on the superspeedway cars. Those changes meant cutting up every proven chassis the team had.
"I am all for safety and these changes are going to be great," Hornaday said. "We are going so fast nowadays that when you do have a problem and hit the wall, it's pretty severe. I'm all for anything that will keep us (the drivers) healthy."
The new 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo body style is also a concern for the NAPA Auto Parts team, but one they think they will really like.
"It's not really a concern because we know how much time Chevy has put into it's development," Hornaday said. "The new car felt really good in testing at Talladega, but it's not race tested yet and so I don't know what it will do in the draft at 200 mph or how loose or tight the air will make it. I think from what we've seen so far, that it is going to be a very balanced car."
Despite all the changes to the cars, there are some things that haven't changed. The No.3 Chevrolet will still have Ron Hutter horsepower. Hutter motors are well known for being some of the most powerful in all of stock car racing. Gere Kennon, who took over as Hornaday's crew chief during the second half of last year, is back to call the shots in 2000. Kennon is a two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion crew chief, winning the title with Sam Ard in 1983 and '84.
Also back with the team is technical director Steve Hmiel. Hmiel is considered by many as one of the brightest minds to ever grace the garage area.
And then there is the driver himself. Hornaday has won in every series he has ever raced in on a full time basis. He dominated the Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring in 1992 and '93. He finished second in the NASCAR Winston West Series points in 1994. And he claimed 25 wins and two titles in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
So Hornaday won't exactly just be jumping into Earnhardt Jr.'s cars. But he will be jumping into a DEI-prepared ride that's got plenty of talent behind it, and that could spell success.