DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 14, 2000) The glaring issue thus far in Speedweeks 2000 is the performance of the new Chevrolet Monte Carlo as compared to that of the new Ford Taurus. During Bud Pole Qualifying for the Daytona 500 Saturday, Chevrolet...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 14, 2000) The glaring issue thus far in Speedweeks 2000 is the performance of the new Chevrolet Monte Carlo as compared to that of the new Ford Taurus. During Bud Pole Qualifying for the Daytona 500 Saturday, Chevrolet placed just one car in the top-15, and that car's driver, Mike Skinner, admittedly toed the line of a blown engine in order to place fourth on the speed chart. Meanwhile, Ford had nine Tauruses among the top-15, including four of the top-5 and a sweep of the front row. Afterwards, questions coursed through the garage with the resonance of 750-horsepower engines.
However, in Sunday's Bud Shootout Chevrolet made a valiant resurgence behind Sterling Marlin and Jeff Gordon, only to see a final-lap crash prevent a win by either driver. Despite being bitten by the bad luck bug, Chevrolet crew chiefs had plenty of reason to breathe a large sigh of relief.
"I am pleasantly surprised at how we stacked up against everybody else," said Larry McReynolds, crew chief for Skinner's No. 31 Lowe's Home Improvement Chevrolet. "We were in trouble with our car of Friday. We couldn't keep up and it wouldn't turn a lick behind another car and we just kept working on it and have gotten a lot better. Again, I'm pleasantly surprised."
The biggest obstacle with the new Chevrolet lies in the chassis. The new Monte Carlo rapidly tightens up in the corners, meaning that no matter how hard a driver tries to steer through the turn, the car wants to push up the track towards the wall. j One such example came on the final lap Sunday. Gordon, running somewhere in the lower half of the top-10, made a daring move to the bottom of the racetrack, shooting past Marlin in an impressive show of power and grace. However, Marlin's car was direly tight, forcing him up the track and into Bobby Labonte, resulting in a multi-car crash that collected several drivers.
Although neither won the Bud Shootout, Marlin and Gordon proved Chevrolet has what it takes to compete in NASCAR 2000.
"We can beat 'em, it's just a situation where we have to do everything right," said Robbie Loomis, crew chief of Gordon's No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet. "Here (at Daytona), we're going to have to do everything right to win.
"We're going to have to have the body maxed all we can to get it to be slick. We're going to have to figure out how to make it turn because we can't pull the fenders out and do things that you'd normally do to pin the front end down. We've got to make the thing turn and still have a good drag number."
Drag - how much the air bogs the car down -- is another major concern among the Chevrolet contingent. According to Loomis, Chevy teams are fighting an unfamiliar battle.
"The drag is considerably different with this car than the car we had last year," Loomis said. "We've just got to do everything right, and we can't give up anything in any area. In the past down here, you'll pull the fenders out a little more or put more spoiler on it. Now, you're going to see all the Chevrolets setting up with minimum spoiler and the fenders in as far as they can and still have the car turn."
Although he is concerned with the performance of his car, Kevin Hamlin, crew chief for Dale Earnhardt and the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet, won't worry totally until after he sees the car in the draft. If the "man who sees air" struggles, the outlook may be very bleak.
"After the draft, we'll know more," said Hamlin, who led Earnhardt to two superspeedway victories last season at Talladega. "We'll let the master (Earnhardt) get out there and give us his opinion of what's going on.
"We're not going to throw in the towel. This is the Daytona 500. It's not looking good, but I'm not giving up. If we don't win the (Gatorade 125-mile Qualifying Race), I don't care. It's going to be disheartening to think you don't have a chance at winning it, but Sunday is still the big event. We'll see what happens."