Tuesday news 97-08-05

NASCARFans E-Mail List Well, we are back, I think. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but it seems to be straightened out now. Many thanks to Brian of Netcrafters. Netcrafters provides NASCARFans' web site, and e-mail list...

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Well, we are back, I think. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but it seems to be straightened out now. Many thanks to Brian of Netcrafters. Netcrafters provides NASCARFans' web site, and e-mail list processing.

Dave Charpentier named crew chief for the #75 Butch Mock Motorsports Remington Ford. Charpentier, 38, was SABCO's manager of engineering. Owner Butch Mock had been handling the responsibilities since he let Gere Kennon go in May (Jayski).

While one Virginia native was whooping it up in victory lane after yesterday's Brickyard 400, another was doing a good job of kicking himself in the fanny by his team's hauler.

Ricky Rudd of Chesapeake won the race. Jeff Burton of South Boston, a two-time winner this season, was in good position to add victory No. 3.

''We had 'em, I'm real confident, we had 'em,'' crew chief Buddy Parrott said after the race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

''I would say we had a great opportunity to win the big race today.''

What happened was this:

Burton pitted late under a green flag because a tire was going flat. He got four fresh tires. A caution came out soon thereafter, and most drivers went in for gas only.

Burton should have been fifth on the restart. But a mixup with his spotter caused him to speed on pit row, and he was sent to the end of the longest line. Instead of being fifth, he restarted 23rd with 10 laps to go.

He ended up finishing 15th. The speed limit on pit row varies from track to track. At IMS, the limit is 55 mph. No word on exactly how fast Burton was going, only that it was more than 55.

Burton explained that he thought leaders were about to pass him on pit row. That would have put him a lap down. He sped up knowing he might be penalized but thinking end of the line was less of a price to pay.

As it turned out, it wasn't the leaders.

''NASCAR did the right thing. I was speeding,'' Burton said. ''You're thinking, 'Maybe they'll be sympathetic.' But they can't do that.

''I have to take the responsibility. I'm the one driving the car. I was the one who mashed the gas. They didn't have to tell me (about the penalty). I knew it was going to come.

''We had a great race car. I'm real disappointed in the mistake I made. One way to look at is we gained a lot of experience.''

He refused to blame his spotter.

''My fault. I made the call to take off,'' Burton said.

Burton stopped short of saying he would have won. But he would have been near the front, the only one with fresh tires.

''You can never tell for sure. It would have been a pretty good position,'' Burton said.

Burton, who started 33rd, led from the 89th to the 109th laps. His take from the $4.9 million purse was $96,885. His brother, Ward Burton, who started 36th, ended up in 19th position. W. Burton pocketed $78,435.

''I hated to see that last caution come out (on the 155th lap of 160),'' Ward Burton said. ''We were running 10th . . . after that last caution my front end just skated terrible up the track and I lost a bunch of positions.

''We came from 36th to 19th, so at least we got some positives out of it.'' (GVA)

Terry Labonte was first in points two races ago. Then he finished 35th at Pocono and fell to third. He finished 40th yesterday and is now fourth. Dale Jarrett moved into third, behind Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin.

Engine failure limited him to 83 laps.

''For us, that's rare,'' Labonte said. ''I know they'll work on it, figure it out and it won't happen again.'' (GVA)

The battle over Ford's Taurus has begun, on both the technical and political fronts, and Jimmy Spencer says that the next several months will be challenging for Ford's NASCAR teams.

As Ford crews begin making the changeover from the venerable Thunderbird to this new roundish race car with its already controversial racing modifications, they will be facing not just technical problems and mechanical issues but also very likely road blocks thrown up by General Motors.

So Spencer and the Ford teams are braced.

''Ford did a lot of work over the last year on this car, trying to figure out what they want to do,'' Spencer says. ''The Thunderbird's not selling too good, and the Monte Carlo's not selling too good, either -- you can talk to the Chevrolet dealers. The whole society has changed to four-door cars, that's probably the biggest thing.''

Aside from that debatable philosophical issue, Spencer realizes that Ford drivers and crew chiefs face a difficult transition -- no matter what the eventual shape of the NASCAR Taurus -- from the Thunderbird, with its well-known handling characteristics and aerodynamic quirks, to a new creature, which will certainly provide moments of uncertainty out on the track, and probably at the most inconvenient times.

''I don't think the new Ford will really showcase itself until the middle of the year,'' Spencer said. ''Not until we've run most of the race tracks at least once, and tested a lot of things. There's no question we'll have to figure out what the car likes at Charlotte, Rockingham, Martinsville, everywhere, versus the Thunderbird.

''I'm sure it's going to be different, even though it's the same chassis. The Monte Carlo was on the same chassis, but it was different from the Lumina. Because the aerodynamics are so critical anymore, particularly at California, Michigan, Charlotte and Atlanta and Texas, that's where it's going to be really critical.

''Just looking at the car, it's no different than the Monte Carlo, which also had a lot of things added to it and a lot of things tweaked on it to make it competitive. And the same with the Taurus. But Ford listened to the race teams on this, and that's a big benefit. By listening to the teams before designing that car, that will probably knock off a lot of problems for us than if just the engineers designed the car.

''What works on paper doesn't always work on the race track. So Ford went to Jack Roush and Roger Penske and Robert Yates and asked them for input, and they've used that input, so I think the car will be pretty good.''

The Taurus unveiled in Indianapolis was built by Penske's Robin Pemberton, who says this version was designed for Daytona. Teams generally build two types of NASCAR cars, a very sleek aerodynamic model with low drag for Daytona and Talladega, and a higher drag model with much more downforce (by way of larger fenders, for example) for the other tracks. What a Charlotte-California-Michigan Taurus might look like could be considerably different from the version everyone saw in Indianapolis.

''There are only two tracks where we run the restrictor-plate cars, so we may say we'll give up a little at those two tracks so we can have what we need at California and Michigan, Atlanta, places like that,'' Spencer said.

''I'm glad they're doing what they're doing, because we are still at a disadvantage to the Pontiac and the Chevrolet at Rockingham and Dover and Charlotte and all those tracks where downforce is critical.''

But what about the Taurus at Daytona for the season opener? Ford officials and teams are putting out the impression that the NASCAR Taurus program has been a rush program, with the car coming together in barely four months. The Monte Carlo, on the other hand, was 2 1/2 years in development.

''I don't think we'll know what we really have for Daytona until we go down and test,'' Spencer said. ''We'll test there at least twice, and probably build three cars. And after the tests we'll probably convert one of those three over to an Atlanta or Michigan car.

''Our body men are certainly going to be working extra-long hours, cutting bodies, moving bodies, hanging bodies.''

Part of the NASCAR-Taurus battle over the next few months will be to get all the templates pinned down, and Chevrolet men aren't giving Ford and NASCAR a blank check on modifications.

Ford teams will naturally want to get the Taurus on the track somewhere for some shakedown runs -- first, probably at Ford's private test track, then later under NASCAR's eyes at Talladega. How many versions Ford engineers might have cooked up is not clear. Chevrolet presented NASCAR a number of Monte Carlo modifications before getting the green light.

Spencer and Travis Carter, his car owner, are still looking for their first win together, and that has seemed closer than ever the last several weeks. In Saturday's Brickyard 400, Spencer and crew chief Donnie Wingo had at least a top eight car, led for a while, but then. . . . .

''Him and Earnhardt got together on the backstretch under the caution,'' Wingo said. ''I don't know what really happened. They didn't show it on TV, and I couldn't see it. He just said 'Earnhardt ran into me; I ran into Earnhardt.'

''I think Earnhardt's car must have gone all the way up on our fender, and it busted the tire and messed up the fender. We stayed on the lead lap for a long time, until that late caution on about lap 143, and then went a lap down.''

This week's stop at Watkins Glen? Well, it isn't one of Spencer's favorite tracks, although he finished third there once, in 1993, and he was fourth in this year's June Grand National race.

''We had a brand-new road-racing car for Sonoma and ran real competitive,'' Spencer said. ''But I probably don't overextend myself on the road courses. I know the car is better than the driver. Still, we came out of Sonoma with a decent finish, and I think we'll come out of Watkins Glen with a decent finish.

''But as far as saying 'win,' Watkins Glen is probably one of the few tracks we'll go to, along with Sonoma, with the attitude that we just need to get a solid top-10.

''To win on a road course, you've got to really stay after it all day long and race the race track and not anybody else. And that's not known as one of my traits. I race people, not the track.'' (Mike Mulhern, JournalNow)

Winning the Brickyard 400 made Ricky Rudd a hero to souvenir sellers.

"We're glad to see a new face in Victory Lane," said Henry Burchfield, a vendor from Benton, Tenn., who had a souvenir stand at 16th Street and Georgetown Road. "Yesterday (Saturday), Rudd's stuff was very cold, but today they wore me out on him."

Rudd, a Virginia native, has won NASCAR races each year for the past 15 seasons. He nearly won the Winston Cup championship in 1991, finishing second to Dale Earnhardt.

Despite his success, Rudd has never been an extremely popular driver, and his collectibles have not been hot sellers. That changed at 3 o'clock on Saturday afternoon, when Rudd won the NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Excited race fans left the track after the race, descended on the hundreds of souvenir trailers surrounding the track and picked them nearly clean of Rudd memorabilia.

Before the race, Burchfield had sold two toy replicas of Rudd's Tide Thunderbird. After Rudd's win, fans bought all of his merchandise except for a couple of caps. People were buying the remaining Rudd material on Sunday.

Souvenir vendors say race fans always want to buy the winning driver's collectibles after a NASCAR event, and the Brickyard 400 proved them right.

"I brought a bunch of his stuff here, more than most people," said Bill Szathmary, a vendor from Cape May, N.J. "No sooner than did the checkered flag drop than we were selling Rudd T-shirts and jackets galore." (SpeedNet)

Jeff Gordon on the Brickyard:

"It was great to be back in Indiana, and I saw a lot of 'Happy Birthday' signs," Gordon said. "I'm glad we could put on a show and show them what we're made of." Gordon finished fourth for his 14th top 5 finish in 1997.

"We had a great car and we showed a lot of potential coming from the middle of the pack on a track that's so hard to pass on. We had a car that was capable of winning and that's what I'm proud of." (SpeedNet)

Dale Jarrett on the new Taurus race car, from the 8/5/97 NASCAR Online chat:

It's going to be an exciting next six months for us getting everything prepared for us with the Taurus and getting everything ready for the championship. It's a lot of work in a very short period of time. According to the wind tunnel results we've seen our Taurus is going to be a really good race car for us, especially on the short tracks and intermediate tracks. We're going to need some time to get it ready for tracks like Daytona and Talladega. I'm sure we're going to spend some extra time at Daytona getting ready. Our involvement in the car was somewhat minimal, we didn't build it here at Robert Yates Racing. But Todd Parrott and Robert Yates both hand a lot of influence on the process, and I've been really pleased with what they've done in such a short period of time.

Mike Irwin (mike@nascarfans.com) NASCAR Fans _______________________________________ NASCAR Fans Website http://www.nascarfans.com

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Terry Labonte , Jimmy Spencer , Jack Roush , Robert Yates , Roger Penske
Teams Yates Racing