News #2 97-10-29

NASCARFans E-Mail List ===== Early testing of the new Taurus for next season has met with mixed reviews from Ford teams in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. But there's one thing upon which everyone agrees: the new make still has a long way to...

NASCARFans E-Mail List ===== Early testing of the new Taurus for next season has met with mixed reviews from Ford teams in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

But there's one thing upon which everyone agrees: the new make still has a long way to go to meet the competitive standards set by its predecessor, the Thunderbird. That longtime Ford entrant has won 18 of the 30 NASCAR Winston Cup Series races held in 1997. That's significantly up from 12 victories a year ago.

Several Ford drivers have conducted test sessions with the new Taurus at sites such as Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. And while it is slowly gaining acceptance, skepticism is still widespread.

"The car is pretty good, but we have a lot of work to do in a short period of time," said Dale Jarrett, who recently conducted a test of the Taurus at Atlanta Motor Speedway in his No. 88 Quality Care Ford Credit machine,. "We were trying to get a jump on things a little bit to take away some of the rush after the first of the year.

"I don't know that I would have known a lot of difference in the two cars if I hadn't known what I was driving. It seems to have some potential is some areas that we can work with, it's just going to take us time to figure out exactly what the car is asking for because it seems to have some advantages to it in places that we haven't had before. But we have some disadvantages in some other areas that we have to overcome, so there is a lot of work to do."

Earlier this year, the Ford Motor Company decided it would discontinue the manufacturing of the Thunderbird for 1998. Officials also concluded that the company would be at a disadvantage in marketing their product if it continued to keep the Thunderbird on the race track. The decision was made to go with the Taurus, one of their top-selling street cars, for next season.

The No. 21 Citgo team recently tested the new Taurus at Talladega and Atlanta, both superspeedways. The car, according to Citgo team crew chief Eddie Wood, got more favorable results at Atlanta.

"We took the T-Bird we crashed (at Talladega) and we took the motor, shocks, springs, bars and everything out of that car and put it in a Taurus and we ran it (the day after the DieHard 500)," Wood said. "It ran a 52 flat. That's the best we were able to get it to run without doing all the qualifying stuff. It's not as good as what we've got right now, not for us with our stuff. I think it's going to be a struggle with restrictor-plate races.

"We carried it to Atlanta and put Atlanta stuff in it. We pulled the fenders out and we did all the downforce stuff you can do to a Daytona car without cutting it up, and we were pleased with it there. I think it's going to be okay. It was closer there than it was at Talladega. In fact, I think we could have run as quick with it as we did with the T-Bird. As far as the downforce stuff, I think we'll be okay."

Atlanta is a 1.5-mile oval, whereas Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway are both 2.5-mile race tracks. Restrictor plates are mandated by NASCAR at Daytona and Talladega only.

The construction of the chassis seems to be the biggest stumbling block for the teams to overcome. At this point, Wood said it's all a matter of experimentation with the new car.

"We really don't know what we're looking for," Wood said. "It's so early in the game, you don't know where to put the body location and you don't know how to do this and how to do that. We're so far behind, we're trying to put together a race car in four or five months and be competitive with it, and that's a problem. I hope NASCAR will give us some tests down the road, because we sure need it at this point."

The new Taurus will make its debut early next year during Speedweeks at Daytona, following only a few months of development and testing. Just how competitive the Taurus will be in the early stages of the 1998 season remains to be seen, although some drivers have found a few clues.

"I think at all your intermediate and short track stuff, it will be fine," Elliott said. "But my biggest concern is Daytona in February. Here it is nearly November and we still don't have a good direction about what we are going to do. I'm concerned about being ready for Daytona and being competitive."

"We're still a long way from being competitive at Daytona," said Jarrett, a two-time Daytona 500 winner. "As far as Atlanta and Rockingham, another test or so and I think we can be to where we can race, but still not as good as we would like to be. As far as Daytona and Talladega go, we're still way off there. We've got a lot of work between now and February to figure out exactly what it's going to take so when we do get to Daytona, we will have a chance at winning." (Shawn A. Akers, NASCAR Online Staff) ===== Based on what Steve Grissom has done on NASCAR's so-called flat tracks this season, he and the Kodiak Racing Team have every reason to think they will be competitive in this weekend's Dura Lube 500 presented by Kmart at Phoenix International Raceway, the next-to-the-last race of the season.

Said Grissom: "The biggest reason for our positive feelings about racing at Phoenix this week is our race car. It's been our best race car this year. We placed fourth in it twice at New Hampshire, and at Richmond we finished out of the top-10 two time's, 11th and 12th. We raced at Martinsville year, too."

"The Phoenix track has a layout all its own, of course, but it does have some similar characteristics to running at New Hampshire, and that's where we've had our best run this year," added Grissom. "The car has to be able to handle well, as it does on most of the NASCAR Winston Cup tracks, but this Kodiak crew has been on top of things with the handling on this type of track all year. That's why we think we'll have another strong run Sunday.

"It's sort of a 'D-shaped track, but turns one and two at Phoenix are tighter than the turns in three and four, so it takes a lot of adjustment in practice runs to try to even things out so you can handle both ends of the track decent all day. It's a fun track. I like running there."

With just two races left in this 1997 season, Grissom and the Kodiak Team are aiming to finish in the top-20 of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series points standings. They're not that far from being able to achieve that goal.

Grissom currently is 22nd in the standings, only 22 points (2,862-2,840) from 21st-place Jimmy Spencer and he trail 20th-place John Andretti by just 36 points (2,876-2,840). (NASCAR Online) ===== There's also a nice article on http://www.nascar.com about Winston West driver John Kinder going to race in the NASCAR Thunder Special -- Suzuka at Suzuka Circuitland on Nov. 23. Kinder is a fourth-generation Japanese-American who lives in Southern California.

The 23-year-old competitor from Santa Ana, Calif., is looking forward to more than just the race, however. The trip will allow him an opportunity to examine his Japanese heritage firsthand.

"My grandmother is from Kumomoto and my grandfather is from Hiroshima, but I've never been to Japan," Kinder said. "Everybody wants to see where their heritage began. To be able to go there and race is special."

"It's kind of the best of both worlds. Racing has consumed my life for a lot of years. Now, getting to put part of my personal life with this effort is a neat deal."

Kinder's grandmother, Toshi Mori, 82, will return to Japan with her grandson for the race and act as an interpreter. Ironically, the NASCAR Thunder Special -- Suzuka will be the first race in which she has watched Kinder compete. (NASCAR Online)

Mike Irwin (mailto:mike@nascarfans.com) NASCAR Fans _______________________________________

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Dale Jarrett , Jimmy Spencer , Steve Grissom