At Daytona, horsepower vs. aero debate continues By Dave Rodman DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 15, 2000) After about 6 1/2 hours of testing Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway, a brain trust comprised of NASCAR officials, team owners, crew...
At Daytona, horsepower vs. aero debate continues
By Dave Rodman
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 15, 2000) After about 6 1/2 hours of testing Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway, a brain trust comprised of NASCAR officials, team owners, crew chiefs, engineers and drivers will assemble their thoughts and hard data and determine a future course of action at the NASCAR Winston Cup Series' "restrictor plate tracks."
The incident free day, dubbed a study by NASCAR on the relationship of aerodynamics and engine horsepower, began at 9 a.m. and, except for a lunch break and two "debriefing" sessions led by NASCAR Winston Cup Director Gary Nelson, continued unabated up until about 5 p.m.
NASCAR officials and the 11 invited teams, which included some of the series' top performers in NASCAR 2000, experimented with a variety of aerodynamic modifications in conjunction with a variety of restrictor plate sizes in an attempt to "balance horsepower and aerodynamic drag," Nelson said.
"It's been a neat thing to get these guys together to work on a common cause for a change," said Mike Helton, senior vice president and chief operating officer, NASCAR. "They've all got some good ideas and all of them have chipped in to try and make some headway. We're feeling pretty confident that we'll be able to come up with some rules and regulations as it relates to the aerodynamics of a car that gives the restrictor plate races some of the old feel of racing that the competitors and the fans are used to at Daytona and Talladega.
"As you can imagine, the feedback differs a little bit from everyone, as the length of times that guys have been competing on these particular race tracks. It's all been in the right direction. It's been like 'What if we try this?' or 'Hey, I like this' or 'What if we tried this now?' Some of the newer guys are saying things that the older guys have said 'that's the way it used to be, you just don't remember that because it never was like that.'
"When we finish here with this, it doesn't necessarily mean that we'll be very conclusive as to what we'll do when we finish. But we want to collect as much information and give as much time to the issue as we can while we have all these guys with it fresh on their minds and pick their brains a little bit and talk about a direction to go. There's certainly no source that's any better than this. This is the best shot we've had at working on a project all together for the same reason and we'll create pretty good results."
The teams that attended the session, which was called by the NASCAR Competition Department and Nelson, were the Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiacs of drivers Bobby Labonte, the NASCAR Winston Cup point leader after 21 of 34 races and his teammate, Tony Stewart; the Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets of Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner; the Robert Yates Racing Fords of defending NWC champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd; the Roush Racing Fords of Jeff Burton and Chad Little; the Bill Davis Racing Pontiac of Dave Blaney; the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of two-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon; and the Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Chevrolet of Steve Park, the most recent winner on the circuit. Mark Martin, who lives in Daytona Beach, also attended but did not drive observers reported.
Nelson said the test's agenda was a result of a general discussion among the sanctioning body, team owners, crew chiefs and drivers following the most recent restrictor plate races at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway. The plates, which fit between the carburetor and intake manifold and limit horsepower by decreasing the air and fuel flow into the engine, are used at NASCAR's two largest tracks to limit top speeds.
The teams worked in the morning in smaller two- and three-car drafts working with a variety of aerodynamic tweaks including a roof strip, different fender widths, different dimensions and angles of rear spoilers and "gurney lips" atop the rear airfoils; as well as different restrictor plates.
"We checked a lot of things and got a lot of feedback from the drivers," Nelson said. "Now we need to sit down and sort out the situation and make sure we understand it. We want to talk to drivers who weren't here, crewmembers and aerodynamicists. We were able to gather information quickly -- maybe we'll be able to put it all together and make some kind of decision on a direction to take it."
The next event requiring restrictor plates is the Oct. 15 Winston 500 at Talladega. Nelson said the sanctioning body would not rush into any decisions.
"The feedback has been very positive," Nelson said in the middle of the afternoon. "We picked a group of guys that are progressive, very innovative and very smart. We have a group of experts right here in Daytona and we're taking advantage of that experience and that knowledge and we'll see what we can come up with.
"Basically the speeds we were trying to maintain were the speeds we had in July (at the Pepsi 400 at Daytona). We wanted to change the way the cars drove with the aerodynamics and different restrictor plates to study if the driver comments would change.
"The theory we were pursuing was whether higher drag and horsepower would make the cars drive differently. That's what we're evaluating now with the drivers and crew chiefs and engineers -- pulling the data together and evaluating where we're at."
"We're trying to get the cars to slow down aerodynamically so we can put a bigger restrictor plate on," Labonte said, "so that we can have a better balance -- maybe more acceleration power in traffic -- but yet have the cars be stable or unstable, however we get them to where we won't have to rely on other people.
"We want to have the cars stable or unstable enough to race yet to have enough power where we can pull back from a pack and make a pass without having to rely on two or three cars to help you out. Hopefully we can come up with the right solution. At the end of the day, maybe we can come up with the right solution or say that what we've got is pretty good. At the same time, we're trying different angles to see what we can find to make a good race.
"The biggest thing that has worked for us is the spoiler height and angle. We have a disturbance strip, that's what I call it, on the roof that will disturb the air and, hopefully, the cars behind you will be disturbed enough where you have got to have your car handling better."
1998 Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt perhaps summed it up best.
"We needed to do this," he said. "If we can get the throttle response back to the driver and be able to draft back up, we'll make a better race out of it. We've already hit on a few things that I think will be a plus and NASCAR is going to fine tune those ideas and hopefully come back with something for Talladega.
"We're heading in the right direction. At the end of the day, we need to make it a better race for everybody -- the teams, the drivers and the fans. We need to be able to race side-by-side.
"We're all going in the same direction, working with spoiler height and angles, also fender width and those types of things. Everything we're working through, we're finding out the cars like and don't like and we're all coming sort of to the same place and that is a good, driving race car.
"When it's all said and done, I want to be able to drive the car and go to the front."