Meeting produces rule changes for Daytona

Friday, November 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (AP) _ Driver after driver complained about the aerodynamic package used at Talladega Superspeedway last month. NASCAR proved it was listening by adopting new rules for next year's Daytona 500.

NASCAR on Thursday met with about 80 drivers, crew chiefs and car owners for suggestions on how to improve restrictor-plate racing, then threw out the aerodynamic package used in races at Daytona and Talladega for most of the past two seasons.

Gone from the Winston Cup cars will be the thin metal strip across the roof, and the rear spoiler angle will be increased to 55 degrees _ 10 more than was used two weeks ago at Talladega. The air-catching upright bend also will be removed from the top of the spoilers.

Cars will go to Daytona for testing in January with seven-eighths-inch carburetor restrictor plates, one-sixteenth of an inch smaller than the ones used in the most-recent plate races.

The height of the rear spoilers and the clearance of the front air dams for each of the four makes of cars used in Winston Cup will be finalized after January manufacturers' tests at Daytona. NASCAR officials said those measurements could be altered during next season's Speedweeks activities to address any competitive imbalances.

``In regard to the heights, we're going to dance with that after we get to Daytona and see how the cars are running and try to equalize whatever has evolved,'' NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said. ``If the balance is skewed one way or the other, we would be prepared to make a change.''

The rules change came after a two-hour meeting held at Joe Gibbs Racing headquarters. The meeting was called by NASCAR as a forum for teams to voice their complaints about racing at Daytona and Talladega.

Carburetor restrictor plates and aerodynamic devices are used to keep speeds under 200 mph in the interest of safety on the circuit's two biggest and fastest layouts.

The current aero rules, used the past two years at Talladega and Daytona, result in a large pack of cars running bumper-to-bumper and side-by-side for the entire race.

It often leads to multicar wrecks, most recently a 16-car pileup that occurred on the final lap at Talladega last month.

Angry drivers stormed the NASCAR hauler after that race, complaining about the conditions. NASCAR promised to re-evaluate the rules and called Thursday's meeting to gather input.

What was decided closely resembles a set of changes 19 teams tried during an August testing session at Talladega.

Most thought the changes would be put in place for the EA Sports 500 on Oct. 21. But after studying the numbers from the two-day test, representatives from Chevrolet complained that the new package put them at a disadvantage, so nothing was changed.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. went on to win the race in a Chevrolet, giving the manufacturer victories in all four of this year's restrictor-plate races.

``We tried the new package and everybody loved it, and we left there thinking we had found something,'' said Ricky Rudd, who drives a Ford. ``But really what happened was at the end of the day, that's when the politics started so nothing happened.

``The one constant was that everyone was in agreement that the drivers liked it better, so now we'll take that package and do some tweaking here and there to make sure it works for everyone.''

Hunter admitted that the new package was close to what NASCAR tried in August, but said the sanctioning body could not implement it at that time because of the resistance from some of the teams.

``I think in today's meeting there was a general consensus that this is going to make it better, and I don't think that coming out of that Talladega test in August, we all felt that way,'' he said.

Under the new package, drivers and car owners said they believed racing on the two superspeedways would remain as competitive as it has been the past two seasons, but would also give the best cars a chance to separate themselves from the pack.

Currently, all 43 cars in the field can run in two long lines, drafting off each other, with everyone given an equal shot to win the race.

Big wrecks have become commonplace at Talladega and Daytona, where 19 cars crashed late in the Daytona 500. Then, seven-time series Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt was killed while racing at head of a pack of cars on the final lap of that race on Feb. 18.