No results blow out of wind tunnel

April 18, 1995|By Tom Higgins | Tom Higgins,Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In recent years NASCAR has been far more open about its decisions and policies than a quarter-century back, when the sanctioning body's founder, Bill France Sr., ran a benevolent dictatorship.

However, it borders on trying to break into Fort Knox to get information from NASCAR concerning last month's "comparison tests" of the three Winston Cup Series models -- the new Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Ford Thunderbird and Pontiac Grand Prix -- at wind tunnels in Georgia and Michigan.

"The time hasn't come yet to share that information," NASCAR spokesman Andy Hall said.

Monte Carlo drivers have won all seven of this season's races going into Sunday's Hanes 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where qualifying begins Friday.

It has been widely suggested, mainly by members of Ford teams and their fans, that the Monte Carlo has a decided aerodynamic edge that produces greater downforce. Added downforce results in better traction and faster cornering speeds.

The latest Chevy rejoinder, and perhaps a plausible one, is that the advantage may be coming from beneath the hood rather than from fenders that adjoin it -- specifically from under hoods that cover engines built by Hendrick Motorsports.

Since April of 1994 drivers in cars with Hendrick-supplied power have accounted for 10 victories (four this season), 63 top 10 finishes, five poles, 12 outside front row starts and purses of $5,809,357.

Cars carrying Hendrick engines swept the top three finishing positions in the Purolator 500 at Atlanta last month and also qualified 1-2-3 for the TranSouth 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

Through the First Union 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway on April 9, cars carrying Hendrick Motors had led 49.3 percent of this season's possible laps, including 41 percent by three-time winner Jeff Gordon.

The man behind all this motor muscle is soft-spoken Randy Dorton, who heads an engine-building staff of 29.

"Our progress has come with a price," says Dorton. "It doesn't happen overnight and our guys go well beyond the norm to get better. In 1994 we put 324 motors across the dyno and built 230 motors. We've done 80 engines already this year, enough for two of our own teams an entire season."

In addition to Gordon, team owner Rick Hendrick also fields Chevys for Terry Labonte and Ken Schrader.

Meanwhile, when will NASCAR officials divulge the results of the wind tunnel tests and announce rules modifications -- if any -- to make the Fords and Pontiacs more competitive with the Monte Carlos?

There is, of course, considerable speculation.

A hunch: NASCAR will run one more big track race, the Winston Select 500 on April 30 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, to further gauge whatever gap might exist. That's a 2.66-mile trioval track where aerodynamics come into major play.

If Chevy drivers dominate, then the "break" sought by Ford teams could come in time for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 28.

* Had drivers and crew members not maintained their cool last Sunday during the Sundrop 400 at Hickory Motor Speedway, there probably wouldn't have been enough NASCAR officials present to break up fights.

That's how heavy the beating and banging became on the .363-mile track in the Grand National race. It rates as the "give-no-quarter" event of the season so far.

There are rumors that NASCAR plans to drop Hickory from the Grand National schedule in 1996. NASCAR's Hall scotched that speculation, sort of, during the Sundrop 400.

"We make our schedules one year at a time," said Hall. "We haven't even started on the '96 schedule. Any talk of dropping Hickory is very premature."

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