Case builds for treading lightly, not just flooring the pedal

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

October 20, 2002|By Sandra McKee

Not long ago in Dover, Del., Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon talked happily about the prospect of his tires wearing out. It might seem a strange thing for a race car driver to be cheery about, but not in Gordon's case.

His special talent is driving race cars. That's why he has four Winston Cup titles.

"I hate it when all you have to do is put your foot down all the way around a racetrack from pit stop to pit stop," he said.

Gordon and some of his competitors know how to do more. They know how to conserve their tires. They also know how to drive a race car without a lot of downforce (built-in aerodynamic controls that help keep a car on the race track). That ability used to give them an edge over a lot of other drivers who just put down that heavy foot.

And that's why crew chief Jimmy Makar was not so subtly campaigning during a conference call for NASCAR to hurry up and change rules governing downforce and tires.

Makar is not Gordon's crew chief, but his driver, Bobby Labonte, is another of the men who knows how to save his equipment and make the most of what he has.

"Until we change a few things in our series as far as the way we compete on the racetrack, you're going to continue to see the pit strategy be a major player in how things happen and who wins races," Makar said.

That's not the kind of racing Makar grew up watching. Rules, he said, combined with all the money, technology and good personnel available, create a thin line between success and failure.

"It doesn't take much today to not look good," he said.

In Makar's mind -- and Labonte's, and Gordon's, and probably Dale Jarrett's and a few others -- the art of racing was the fun part. It was knowing you had to prevent tire wear on the right front or the left rear if you wanted to have the car to be beaten at the end. Figuring out how to do that made it interesting.

"You used to have certain race car drivers that would be known as [the guys] that [go] out there and [run] very fast for a short period of time," Makar said. "Then, you had another guy that would take care of [his] tires and would come on later in the race. It made for an exciting situation where you had a guy with his car going away -- his tires giving up -- and another guy pacing himself and catching the other guy.

"You don't have that anymore. I think we need to get back to it. It makes for an interesting mix on the racetrack."

Makar said he hopes NASCAR will change some rules by next season that will impact aerodynamics and reduce tires' durability to help get the drivers back into the equation.

"I know they're talking about it," he said. "We need it so we can have a little more racing on the racetrack and have to depend less on the pit stops."

A deal is a deal

Winning isn't everything, after all. Even though Jamie McMurray won last weekend's race at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C., car No. 40 owned by Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will have Mike Bliss driving today at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

Why? Because McMurray is contracted to race a Busch Series car for Brewco Motorsports.

"Coming into this situation, we knew that I could not race in the Winston Cup event at Martinsville," McMurray said. "My first priority is racing the [Busch car]. We are ninth in points right now and looking for a strong championship finish. I'll be back in the 40 car in Atlanta, and I look forward to continue gaining experience with the Chip Ganassi Racing team for next season."

Next season, McMurray, who like Bliss is subbing for the injured Sterling Marlin, will run for Winston Cup Rookie of the Year.

Race party

Octoberfest is known as a time for a good party, and at Hagerstown Speedway, they're planning to have quite a good time next Saturday and Sunday afternoons with the track's own version of the celebration.

Three-time feature winner Donnie Kreitz of Sinking Springs, Pa., leads the list of early entries for the super sprint portion of the Octoberfest 350. The annual fall event brings together the top drivers in the super sprints, the big block modifieds, the late models and the small block modifieds --dirt-track racing's top four divisions.

On Nov. 3, the track will try again -- after two rainouts -- to run the 28th Turbo-Blue Racing Gasoline Hub City National 150.

Winston Cup vs. NFL

NBC Sports' rain-delayed coverage of the UAW-GM Quality 500 Winston Cup race last Sunday earned its highest rating ever against the NFL, a 5.0 national rating/10 share (about 5.3 million households), according to Nielsen Media Research.

(The rating is the percentage of television households in the United States tuned to a given broadcast, with each point representing 1,055,000 homes. The share is the percentage watching a program among those households with TVs on at the time.)

The race also faced 2 1/2 hours of head-to-head competition from the deciding game of baseball's American League Championship Series.

Nuts and bolts

Jaques Lazier returned to the cockpit of an Indy Racing League car last weekend for the first time since suffering a back injury during an IRL race in April. In a test at Kentucky Speedway, he turned 77 laps with Team Menard.

Corvette Racing celebrated its season-long dominance in the GTS class after a ninth win in 10 ALMS races at the 10-hour/1,000 mile Petit Le Mans finale. Corvette drivers swept the drivers' championship. First went to Ron Fellows. Johnny O'Connell, Fellows' driving partner, finished second, and co-drivers of the No. 4 Corvette, Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins, tied for third.

In the LMP class, Tom Kristensen (232) held off Audi teammates Rinaldo Capello (230), Frank Biela (209), Emanuele Pirro (206) and Johnny Herbert(206), who swept the top five spots.

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