Flexing Its Muscles
NASCAR’s TRIPLE-A CIRCUIT GETS A boost from SOME new pumped-up rides. By LaRue Cook the introduction of A new Nationwide car at Daytona on July 2 has given fans of NASCAR’s
REAR DECK LID It may not seem major, but the rear deck lid’s higher positioning is designed to help with the car’s front-to-back balance and stability. It’s one more adjustment that should help initiate NNS guys to Cup-style handling. Gaughan, though, says he hasn’t quite nailed it: “The center of gravity is totally different—it’s way higher with more movement. It’s more difficult to control.” But in the long run, the new cars will finally legitimize Nationwide as a feeder system to the top series. “We’re all trying to get to that higher level,” says Trent Owens, crew chief for Braun Racing’s No. 32 NNS team. “And this will allow better crossover between Cup and Nationwide.”
s truggling feeder division something to be psyched about. The gearheads have fallen in immediate love with near-showroom copies of their favorite muscle cars—Mustang, Impala, Camry and Challenger. On the track, the next-gen rides handle more like their Sprint Cup cousins, and that can only help the young guys prep for the big show. The drivers—not to mention owners and industry analysts—may still be getting used to the shiny new toys, but here are their first impressions.
NOSE The nose offers manufacturers more area to make the cars look like their street counterparts. It’s really the whole reason for the redesign: to bring a little variety to a league of look-alikes. “I wasn’t prepared for the excitement,” says two-time Busch Series runner-up and ESPN analyst Ricky Craven, who sees the new car as a sorely needed shot in the arm. What’s unknown, though, is whether the diversity will give certain makes an edge. “The biggest obstacle will be to bring parity like the CoT did, because the aerodynamics of the Mustang and Impala aren’t identical. It will be tough to govern. Hopefully, they can preserve the style but still strike a competitive balance.”
WHEELBASE The wheelbase is wider, the same 110 inches it is in Cup cars. Sunday drivers are already using that to their advantage on Saturdays. “I transferred a lot of knowledge from my Cup car that wouldn’t have applied before,” says JGR driver Joey Logano, who was second at Daytona. Soon, though, the information highway will be a two-way street. “I think it’ll help drivers get ready for Cup. Always being loose into the corner—this car will get you used to that quicker.” JGR team prez J.D. Gibbs likes the extra inches too. Now he can use the same chassis in both series. “You don’t need as many cars, and Cup teams can pass down parts.”
CHEWED UP TOBACCO MONEY BUILT NASCAR.
When Winston became the title sponsor of the new Cup Series in 1972, it didn’t just cut a check for red and white paint. Like that, tracks acquired grandstands, media centers, scoreboards, restrooms even. And all of it was courtesy of R.J. Reynolds. As of
June 22, though, stock car racing and its beloved tobacco had to call it quits. In March, the FDA released guidelines under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which includes a provision that bans smokeless tobacco advertising at sporting
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The 2008 Indy fiasco is history, but as long as Cup rides tread the rough-grind Brickyard surface (July 25), getting the most from tires without tearing them apart will be top of mind. “It’s a flat track built for light cars that went 75 mph,” says Chad Knaus, crew chief for twotime defending race winner Jimmie Johnson. “Our cars weigh 3,400 pounds and carry 200 mph into turns.” Teams will tweak air pressure and camber per Goodyear’s dictates, but rolling those bigger cars through those 90° corners also means moving as much weight to the left as rules allow and “crabbing” the chassis—kicking the rear end to the right and off center.
venues. That’s no sweat for Winston, which bowed out in 2003, but it’s a huge deal for racing teams still being kept afloat by tobacco sponsorship. Defending Truck Series champ Ron Hornaday had to peel the Longhorn decals off his Kevin Harvick-owned truck, and without Red Man Moist Snuff paying Greg Biffle’s Nationwide salary, Baker Curb Racing could no longer
afford to put him in the 27 car. “It’s devastating,” says owner Gary Baker. “We have a car that was a threat to win every week.” Sure, teams had a few months to react to the bad news, but sponsors are hard to find in midseason; most potential partners have already set their budgets for the year. “We’re in survival mode,” Baker says, “and that may mean starting and
parking. It’s a shame. NASCAR without Winston would have been a different story.” Look no further than the short list of possible 2011 Hall of Fame inductees. Former R.J. Reynolds senior vice president T. Wayne Robertson is right alongside icons like Allison and Pearson. It will take more than lawmakers to undo this 40-year affair. -ERIC MORSE
all news British military tests F1 microchips for use in armored vehicles … Pocono to add SAFER walls on inner guard rails … NASCAR waffles on ethanol use for 2011 … 132
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SPLITTER The nonadjustable splitter may be a problem down the road. “The upper nose is well defined and looks good, but the splitter really determines how the car will drive,” says full-time NNS driver Brendan Gaughan, who had six top 10s in his old car but finished 29th at Daytona. “The balance changes so quickly. If the splitter goes too close to the track you get real loose, but too high and you get really tight.” Daytona is its own beast, though. Trips to Michigan (Aug. 14), Richmond (Sept. 10) and Charlotte (Oct. 15) will be a better barometer.