DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 17, 2000) To get true insight into how competitive NASCAR 2000 is shaping up to be, just ask the most dominant driver in recent memory. "You get more teams out here and it just makes the competition tougher," said Jeff...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 17, 2000) To get true insight into how competitive NASCAR 2000 is shaping up to be, just ask the most dominant driver in recent memory.
"You get more teams out here and it just makes the competition tougher," said Jeff Gordon, winner of three of the past five NASCAR Winston Cup Series championships -- not to mention the defending champion in the Daytona 500. "We're getting more talented drivers and crew chiefs and crewmembers. The well-funded teams, it's just going to make for some great racing, but some guys are going to go home. It's going to be interesting to see. I'm glad I've got a champion's provisional if I ever need it."
To put that statement in perspective, Gordon hasn't used a provisional starting pass in seven years of NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition. Thus, to make sure he continues his unheard of streak at the Daytona 500, Gordon and new crew chief Robbie Loomis hit the track to test the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet on Monday, the first day of a two-day "mandatory" General Motors test session at the storied Daytona International Speedway oval.
If teams do not attend the test, they are still charged with one of their seven allowed tests (for teams with veteran drivers) this season.
"Right now we've got one car we're really happy with and we're primarily doing engine stuff with the other car," said Gordon, who turned a 185.357 mph lap in the faster car and 183.561 in the second car. "It's not quite as fast. We're pretty happy with some of the things we've seen. We'll really know when we see the Fords and what they run and when we get back here.
"We have some unknowns as far as working together, but I feel really good about the things we did in the off season, and I feel really good about the cars we're building. Our guys could not have done a better job with everything they've been through.
"Things could not have come together any better or any smoother than they have. I'm sure we're going to go through some things we're not used to going through, and we'll have to see how it goes."
Not only do the new look "Rainbow Warriors" - five of the original Warrior pit crew scampered off to Dale Jarrett's No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford team over the winter - have to deal with new personnel and a new Chevrolet Monte Carlo body style, but also new rules. NASCAR's newly mandated shocks have forced teams to start from square one on their superspeedway packages.
"It's going to be real interesting," said Gordon of the new shock rules. "I think it's going to make things much more competitive and much tighter. It makes the teams work extremely hard, even harder than they already do trying to get more horsepower out of the cars, trying to find ways for the aerodynamics to be just right and get the car with the right attitude and get the car up to speed as fast as you can.
"We're not able to get these cars way down now, so it definitely changes things quite a bit when it comes to qualifying. The ride is much better on the driver so we don't mind making all the laps out there. We want things to be equal among everybody, and I think this is a good way to do that. I still think we need some adjustments for the race with the shocks. I don't think we're right where we need to be yet with the race package."
The uncertainty of the new shocks poses quite an obstacle for teams - including those like Hendrick Motorsports that were content with what they had. In the past, teams have striven to get their cars as low to the track as possible during qualifying on superspeedways, so low that drivers were forced to endure a massive test of physical endurance. Now, with the new shocks, the cars are higher off the ground, making the ride smoother and tightening the competition.
"I want to talk to other guys and see what they think and get a good idea of what we need," said Gordon, who has won at DIS four times in his career. "I think the whole reason the shock idea came up was to slow the cars down. If you slow the cars down but if they're moving around more, then that defeats the purpose.
"I'd like to get some feedback from the other guys and see what they're saying. I feel like my car is moving around quite a bit with the shock package, but it's good and comfortable for qualifying and it'll be fine for the race, but it takes you back five or six years with what we used to race with. When you have a car that has more drag, it usually punches a bigger hole. Based on what we saw at Talladega when we did do some drafting, that's the case. It also seemed to make it harder to pass. You'd think that you'd suck up faster, but when you pull out you go nowhere.
"It seemed for the Chevrolets we were running with at Talladega, that's certainly not what we were looking for. We had a great package at Daytona and Talladega with the old Monte Carlo and we've got to get back to that. At the other places is where we struggled to keep up with the Fords and Pontiacs and this body is certainly going to help us out there. We've got to make up for Daytona and Talladega."
Gordon, winner of a series-best seven races in 1999 including the Daytona 500, is extremely optimistic about the NASCAR 2000 campaign.
"I feel really good about it," he said. "I've never said we were going to go out and set the world on fire in any season. I wouldn't say that again this year, but I think we're going to be competitive and we've got a really good package together. I'm really excited about that. This is the first test with Robbie Loomis. So far it's going real good.
"He's got bragging rights. His car is faster right now than Brian's (Whitesell). We've got two cars and one is doing one thing and one is doing another. It's neat. We've been able to split it up and it's almost like having two whole teams that are going full bore on each car. That's how we're going to get the most out of this test because you don't get a lot of time on the track."