Debate Over Aerodynamic Rules

Tuesday, February 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ The Ford camp is defending itself against charges of whining to NASCAR, sabotaging its own efforts and outright laziness.

Ahhh, let the Daytona games begin.

With a rules change that favors the Fords going into effect Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway, the other three makes are up in arms and taking it out on their Ford rivals.

``They've been sandbagging here all week,'' said Jimmy Spencer, a longtime Ford driver who moved to a Dodge team this year.

Spencer was 44th in the first round of time trials and said he was still slower than the Fords on Monday, a day before they were allowed to shave a quarter-inch off their rear spoilers.

``They were hauling the mail down the straightaway, I thought they already had changed on the spoiler because they were going so fast,'' Spencer said. ``I don't mind going to a prize fight, but I want to have a fighting chance.''

NASCAR permitted the Fords to reduce its spoilers _ the winglike metal device at the rear of the trunk lid _ to 6 inches because the Tauruses haven't been competitive at Daytona.

The Fords have been slow in practice, had just two cars in the top 20 after the first round of time trials and brought up the rear in the Budweiser Shootout. Dale Jarrett was the highest Ford finisher, coming in sixth, but he was almost 4 seconds behind race winner Tony Stewart in a Pontiac.

So NASCAR approved the quarter-inch coming off the top, bringing the spoiler height down a full half-inch smaller than they were when the new aerodynamic package was introduced late last fall. NASCAR took the first quarter-inch away last month after the Fords tested poorly here under the new rules.

The Chevrolets, which most people believe have at least a slight advantage, are using a 6 1/4-inch rear spoiler, while both the Dodges and Pontiacs are at 6 1/2 inches.

``Do your homework,'' said Greg Zipadelli, Stewart's crew chief. ``We're driving a 7-year-old Pontiac, our body is so old I applied for antique plates, and we found a way to make it work.''

The accusations offended the Ford teams, who quickly reached for the time sheets to show that the Pontiacs and Chevrolets have consistently picked up speed since the aero package was first tested in January, while the Fords have made almost no improvement.

``It's quite obvious to me who the sandbaggers are, and they're over there in the Chevrolets. They're the only ones getting faster each time out,'' said Frankie Stoddard, crew chief for Jeff Burton's Ford. ``And the Pontiacs are fast, too.''

Stoddard was extremely upset over the claims of a poor winter work ethic.

``That's just people who are immature and haven't been in the sport long enough to understand what's going on,'' he said.

NASCAR officials never bought into the Ford sandbagging theory, saying the results of Sunday's nonpoints race was enough of an indicator for them. Behind Jarrett, the other eight Ford entries finished between 10th and 21st in the 22-car field.

``These guys are racers,'' NASCAR president Mike Helton said. ``When they get onto a race track, it's to win a race.''

The issue might not be settled any time soon, either. Helton said he'd be keeping a close eye on Thursday's twin 125-mile qualifying races to see how the competition is shaping up, and too many discrepancies could lead to even more adjustments before Sunday's event.

``There's still some tweaking that can be done,'' Helton said. ``Nothing is out of the question.''