Talladega: GM Racing preview

Chevrolet still looking for its first win in 2002. (Q&A with Terry Laise, Lead Chassis and Aerodynamics Engineer, GM Racing follows) TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 17, 2002) -- The most successful nameplate in NASCAR Winston Cup history has yet to win...

Chevrolet still looking for its first win in 2002.

(Q&A with Terry Laise, Lead Chassis and Aerodynamics Engineer, GM Racing follows)

TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 17, 2002) -- The most successful nameplate in NASCAR Winston Cup history has yet to win a race in 2002. The ninth round of 36 this season comes to Talladega Superspeedway for the Aaron¹s 499 this Sunday -- the second of four restrictor-plate races in 2002. Surprisingly, Chevrolet still seeks its first victory of the year -- as well as a record 23rd Winston Cup win of 66 races at this track.

The cars the Monte Carlo teams bring to Talladega were likely last used at February's Daytona 500 on Daytona International Speedway's banked 2.5-mile circuit. Talladega's 2.66-mile banked speedway was originally designed to mirror Daytona, but drivers and crews have found that there are more than subtle differences between these two tracks.

Chad Knaus, crew chief on Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Lowe's Chevy Monte Carlo, has 13 different cars in his Hendrick Motorsports stable, with another two to be built by season's end. The differences between the short-track and superspeedway cars, he says, is "the short track cars don't rely on the front downforce and downforce drag as much as the larger tracks. Teams are even building separate cars for Daytona and Talladega because the Daytona track requires more handling than Talladega."

"We're taking the same No. 48 Lowe's race car that we ran at Daytona earlier this year," adds Johnson, who captured the pole position there. "It will have the same chassis, but an entirely new body. We're not exactly sure how it is going to qualify. We're hoping that we'll be in the top-10 range, but we're not as confident going down there (Talladega) as we were when we took the pole at Daytona because we haven't tested there this season."

Scott Eggleston of Morgan-McClure Motorsports, who has 17 chassis in the shop for Mike Skinner's No. 4 Kodak Max Film Chevy Monte Carlo, says "the body is more narrow on the speedway car. Lower drag, more downforce are also present on those cars. Actually, there is more attention to detail all the way around on the speedway cars compared to the short-track cars. Of course, NASCAR makes us run a spoiler that is bigger than normal to create more drag in the car in order to keep the speeds down."

The aerodynamic rules that were adjusted by NASCAR for the four restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega following last year's fall Talladega race, will also be tested here this weekend. Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevy Monte Carlo, thinks NASCAR's on the right track. "They've put a little more control of the car back in the driver's hands," he says. "Before, you'd just go out there, hold on tight and hope that you're in the right place at the right time in the last few laps. I think it will still be competitive and that we'll still be able to put on a good show for the fans."

Gordon was leading in the Daytona 500 before an accident dropped him to ninth at the finish. "I don't think the success we had at Daytona necessarily means that we'll be strong this weekend. Comparing Daytona to Talladega is like comparing Lowe's Motor Speedway to Bristol. They're completely different. Unlike Daytona, handling means nothing here."

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who won the fall Talladega race in 2001 in the No. 8 Budweiser Monte Carlo, says racing in Talladega is about attitude. "I'm always in a good mood at Talladega because I love the track and we always seem to run really well here. It's neck-and-neck between Talladega and Daytona for my favorite track. A lot of the racing here (with restrictor plates) is about attitude. Some guys come in with a bad attitude about the race -- they're just riding around out there. I want to be aggressive and be up front all I can. Even if these new rules make it harder to pass, I know I have the car that can put me in a position to win."

Bobby Hamilton, defending winner of last year's Talladega 500 and driver of the No. 55 Schneider Electric Monte Carlo, feels blocking at tracks such as Daytona and Talladega is a necessary evil. "The issue is restrictor plates and when you have to lift it bogs you up real bad and jeopardizes everybody around you. When you get a run on somebody at Charlotte, you have 800 horsepower, the car recovers good, and you have a ton of downforce. We have the necessary evils at Talladega and Daytona. We have no downforce. If somebody touches you, the car goes around. And we have no power. We really can't afford to let off the gas because we're going to get hit from behind, nobody can stop, you can't be touched and you really can't afford to let off the gas because the thing won't pull back up."

Chevrolet has logged more race victories (381) in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series than any other manufacturer in the Modern Era (1972-present). Team Monte Carlo, however, is still seeking its first win of the 2002 season. This lack of a win for a Chevrolet is so rare that the last time Chevrolet had not won a race by the sixth round of the series dates back to 1971. Until now -- throughout the Modern Era -- the highest number of races to pass before collecting a win was five. Only twice, in 1972 and 1992, did Chevrolet go without a win until the sixth race of the series.

In driver's championship point standings after eight races, three Chevy drivers are in the top 10, but at the bottom of that list: Jimmie Johnson in seventh, Jeff Gordon in eighth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in ninth.

The Talladega 500 begins at 2 p.m. ET and airs live on Fox on Sunday,

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Mike Skinner , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports