So far, not too many drivers are happy with NASCAR’s new aerodynamic rules.
Beginning with last Sunday’s race at California Speedway, the Nextel Cup cars had a new aero package in place that included a shortened rear spoiler and softer tires.
The new spoilers and tires will be used everywhere except Daytona and Talladega, the only tracks where NASCAR slows the cars with horsepower-sapping carburetor restrictor plates.
NASCAR’s intention in sawing off an inch on the rear spoilers — down to 4 1/2 inches — and asking Goodyear to provide tires that wear quickly is to create less of a dependence on downforce while placing more of an emphasis on a driver’s ability to race his car, especially through the turns.
John Darby, NASCAR’s Nextel Cup director, said one race is too soon to tell if the changes will work. A lot of drivers were certain they won’t.
The most vocal critic of the new rules was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had a miserable day in the Auto Club 500, fighting handling all day and spending considerable time in the pits after having three flat tires. He finished 32nd in the 43-car field.
“I don’t think that makes any sense to take that (inch) off and say it’s going to make it better running side-by-side,” Junior said. “Somebody’s got to wake up here, you know what I mean? The lightbulb’s got to come on.
“Taking the spoiler off is going to make it more difficult to drive. The softer tires give us more grip, so it (goes fast) and then it falls off. That’s OK. That’s not a bad idea. But we need some more downforce.”
Jamie McMurray, who finished fourth, said he, too, is not a big fan of the spoiler rule.
“It’s really hard to pass,” McMurray said. “When you get up underneath the guy, you get tight and you have to put so much wheel in it that you get loose. Then you don’t have anything back there to help you.”
Greg Biffle somehow drove from midpack to the lead twice during the race, then held onto a very loose car at the end to grab the victory at California.
“They took a half-inch away last year and then to take a whole inch was a pretty bold change,” Biffle said. “I don’t know about anyone else’s car — my car was real bad behind other cars. If I’m coming up through there and I could get maybe six car-lengths from McMurray, I stalled out. I couldn’t do anything and it was just one car by itself.
“It’s the same problems that we always have when you’re behind another race car.”
But Biffle is trying to keep an open mind. He said one race may not have given the drivers a true feel for the new rules.
“When we go to Texas or Atlanta, that’s when you’re going to see something,” he said.
Same old, same old
Two races into the new season and there’s a familiar face at the top of the Nextel Cup standings.
Kurt Busch, last year’s champion, is back out front after finishes of second in the season-opening Daytona 500 and third last Sunday at California.
The champ leads series championship favorite Jimmie Johnson by only five points, with the rest of the top 12 within 100 points.
“It’s way too early to even talk points, but we’re having fun,” the Roush Racing driver said. “It’s a good effort that our team put together to build these cars.”
There’s optimism in the Petty Enterprises camp after team boss Kyle Petty started the season with two straight top-20 finishes.
Team drivers Petty and Jeff Green are using engines this year provided by Evernham Motorsports. So far, so good — Petty finished 17th and 18th and Green turned in runs of 16th at Daytona and 27th at California.
“We feel like these first five races when the points are really wide open we really need to be conservative and come out and finish every race,” said Paul Andrews, crew chief for Petty’s No. 45 Dodge. “It wasn’t a spectacular finish (at California), but it’s what we need to do. We can take that and go on to the next two races and build on that as a group.”
Under NASCAR’s new qualifying rules, teams in the top 35 in car owner points are guaranteed a starting spot in each race. The sanctioning body is using last year’s points for the first five races and the Petty cars are both in, with Green 32nd last year and Petty 35th.
That has reduced the pressure as the once elite team tries to regain a foothold in the top half of the field.
“We’re building both teams and we’ll see what happens,” Andrew said. “Hopefully, we’ll keep improving each week.”
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