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The Callahan Report: NASCAR Takes Swift Action...Fords Lose Downforce

2 March 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
DAYTONA BEACH, FL: As soon as the checkered flag dropped on the inaugural running of the Las Vegas 400 NASCAR race, the tempers of Pontiac and Chevy racing teams boiled over. The new Ford Taurus had walked away with 13 of the top 14 finishing positions. NASCAR stars like Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, and Jeff Gordon had all been beaten by lesser known names in the sport.

Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
Getting beat by drivers who have never visited victory lane in a Winston Cup race is not hard to take when there is a reason. The problem Sunday was that many of NASCAR's Chevy and Pontiac racing teams had no problems. They had flawless pit stops, no on track incidents, and no motor problems. However, NASCAR's GM contingent was flat out clobbered by the new Ford Taurus.

In less than 24 hours after the Las Vegas Four-Hundred (or is that Ford-Hundred?), NASCAR has stepped in and leveled the playing field. The Winston Cup sanctioning body announced today rules changes which will be effective immediately.

The Primestar 500 in Atlanta this Sunday will see the downforce reduced for the Ford Taurus and the Ford Thunderbird. The Taurus rear spoiler will be reduced in height from 5 inches to 4.75 inches. The Thunderbird rear spoiler, which is currently at 4.75 inches, will be reduce to 4.5 inches. The Thunderbird is being phased out but a few of the NASCAR teams are still using the outdated bodywork.

NASCAR believes the reduced surface area on the rear spoiler will reduce the downforce in the corners. The result should be a slower Ford Taurus. The Chevy Monte Carlo will keeps its 5 inch rear spoiler. The Pontiac spoilers will also remain unchanged (5.375 inches).

NASCAR will monitor the competitiveness of the racing teams at the Primestar 500 to determine if further rules changes will be necessary. The front air-dam clearance is another area which effects downforce. For now, air-dams will be unchanged on all models racing in NASCAR's top series.

The first race of the NASCAR season was the Daytona 500. Aerodynamics are not "played with" at Daytona and Talladega (AL). Speeds at those high banked tracks are controlled using restrictor plates. Dale Earnhardt was the winner at Daytona in his Chevy Monte Carlo.

Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt, 1998 Daytona 500 Champion

Many of the GM racing teams began to rumble after the second race of the season at Rockingham. Fords dominated the majority of the race. One Monte Carlo team was able to figure out a way to run with the Fords. Jeff Gordon was the eventual winner of the race in his Chevy. Fords swallowed the remainder of the GM products. In Las Vegas, even the genius of the Rainbow Warriors and Jeff Gordon could not contend with the new Taurus.

Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon: Could be on his way to 3rd championship

The latest move by NASCAR to make the racing more competitive could backfire. If Jeff Gordon's Dupont team was smart enough to find a way to stay ahead of the Fords in Rockingham, they may have a cake-walk to the championship when the Fords are running with less downforce. The rule may become known as "The Three Time Champ" rule. Time will tell. In any event, hats off to NASCAR for ensuring racing is close, competitive, and exciting.

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