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Cars n' Stars: New Rules at NASCAR, Chevy vs. Ford in Court, Honda Civic Bests Crash Tests

23 January 1998

NASCAR has announced that--beginning with this year's Daytona 500--drivers will have more opportunities to qualify for a race, even if their lap times aren't fast enough. The sanctioning body will increase the provisional entries from four to six. With the rule change, only 25 drivers will qualify in the first round, and 11 in the second.

On the eve of Super Sunday--when they will air TV commercials--Ford Truck and Chevy Truck are having their own contest. Ford's lawyers are questioning Chevrolet's methodology in claiming higher speeds for their full sized pickup trucks and are threatening legal action if the GM guys don't pull the plug on their commercial.

Of 11 small cars crash tested by the insurance industry, the top five for overall structural safety in head-on crashes were:

Honda Civic
Toyota Corolla
Ford Escort
Hyundai Elantra
Saturn Sl

The Lexus Rx 300 for 1998 is priced at $32,045, which is not bad for a luxury sport ute.

Audi is coming out with a sport utility: it's a big all-road Quattro.

IROC--International Race Of Champions--has announced 4 invitees from NASCAR: Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton, and Mark Martin. Martin is the defending champion from 1997. The drivers will be driving identically prepared Pontiac Firebird Trans-Ams.

The USAC FF2000 series for 1998 kicks off at Disney World today; it will be carried on the tube.

Big Japanese auto makers are planning to build a bunch of vehicles in 1998:

Maker                                Units (millions)
Toyota                                     4.9
Nissan                                     2.8
Honda                                      2.4
Mitsubishi                                 2.0
Mazda                                      1.6

Auto sales in Europe by the majors for December are:

VW                                     155,300
GM                                     112,994
Fiat                                    89,931
Ford                                    95,482
BMW                                     53,615

We reviewed the debut of the 1999 Mercury Cougar in this column a few weeks ago: Jay Leno polishing the car, and the once stodgy Ford division says it is gearing all its promotion efforts at young buyers. Lincoln Mercury notes to whoever will listen that the Lincoln Navigator is the top selling luxury sport ute in the U.S. At 51,000 units sold in the fourth quarter of 1997, it even outsold Cadillac.

Driving school impresario, Bob Bondurant announces he will stop selling Cobra replicas that are assembled in South Africa and concentrate more time on his successful driving school which now has a shifter karts class.

As we all know, car dealer/NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick was sentenced to do time at his home for his part in the Honda fraud and racketeering case. Hendrick owns 22 car dealerships and now one manufacturer has dumped him. Noone know who it is. It might be Honda.

FedEx CART drivers are testing at Phoenix with Brian Herta turning a lap at 181 mph. Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy are testing at Homestead in Florida. 1997 champ Alex Zanardi is in line for an ESPN ESPY award presented each year to a top athlete. The award will be on TV Feb. 9 at 8pm. A lot of CART drivers will be driving in the Daytona 24 hour race next week: Max Papis, Danny Sullivan, Scott Pruett, Paul Newman . . . Paul Newman???

Bill Maloney -- The Auto Channel