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16 November 2000

By David Treffer
Contributing Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
The 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season is winding down and the series has already crowned their champion. None the less the series officials have been preparing for the 2001 season since the middle of July. One of the areas that NASCAR has been addressing is the aerodynamic and restrictor plate racing sector.

Think back to the season opening race at the Daytona 500. It was, without a doubt, the most boring race of the 2000 season. The "Shock Absorber 500" ,as some fans called it on the way out of the grandstands, was exciting for the last ten laps. In the prior 190 laps it was a race, with apologies to Johnny Benson, that required "No-Doze" to maintain interest. The July Pepsi 400 race at Daytona did not improve the show. The shock absorber and subsequent aerodynamic problem (nee: no passing) was still apparent.

NASCAR classifies their tracks into two categories: Short Track and SuperSpeedways. They should really add a third category and call it: Restrictor Plate Superspeedways. The Restrictor Plate Superspeedways are Daytona and Talladega with the soon to be on-line Kansas City facility. Restrictor plate racing has been criticized almost from the very day it was proposed. None the less, restrictor plate racing is here to stay. So the NASCAR officials were confronted with finding a way to make the cars stick to the ground and at the same time make passing available.

The refreshing item about NASCAR is that they listen to the fans. When a problem crops up they take action. The officials heard the grumbling about the lack of passing from the fans and drivers alike after both the Daytona 500 and Pepsi 400 and took action. NASCAR knows that they are in the motorsport entertainment business.

After the Daytona 500 the race officials began a long fact-finding task that would eventually end up in wind tunnels to find the answer. The "leading edge roof flap" as it would be called was implemented at the fall race at Talladega. That design change provided one of the most exciting NASCAR Winston Cup races of the decade. Forty-Nine lead changes among 21 drivers. It was as if NASCAR had watched the CART Michigan race where a record 61 passes had occurred. Dale Earnhardt, the eventual winner, hurled himself from the middle of the pack to take the victory. Earnhardt has long been known as a major critic of restrictor-plate racing. However on this particular day he found a way to draft and weave his way to victory lane.

Now with the 2001 Daytona 500 only 14 weeks away, the emphasis has been to improve the aerodynamic package. The teams will begin testing in earnest in just a few more weeks. While the teams will work on all aspects of their racing program the budget will be heavily weighted toward winning that all important "Super Bowl of NASCAR" even if it was a bore last year.

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.