Smaller tanks put premium on planning

Change for `plate' races will keep crews hustling

Daytona notebook

Auto Racing

February 13, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Today's Twin 125-Mile qualifying races will have a little more strategy than usual.

Sure, the newly designed race cars will change the competition. But another NASCAR rule change - reducing the size of the fuel cell (tank) from 22 gallons to 13.5 gallons at restrictor plate races at Daytona and in Talladega, Ala. - will also cause teams to scramble.

The change will restore pit stops to the 125-mile races, which will determine the starting lineup for Sunday's 45th Daytona 500.

That means more pit strategy.

"Everyone's got to do it," said Ricky Rudd, who is driving this season for the Wood Brothers team. "No one can afford to put on four tires if it [stays] green. They're going to have to put on two tires or gas-and-go, but most of them will put on two tires.

"That's a different element than we've had to deal with in the past. Instead of all that pressure being on that driver to go out there and finish in that transfer spot [the finishing positions that transfers into a starting position in the 500], some of the pressure comes back to the crew."

One of the reasons for the change, first tried at Talladega last October, is the idea of spreading out the cars on the track. But as with nearly every rules change here, you can always find someone ready to debate whether the change will do what it is intended to do.

"I don't think the fuel cell matters as far as performance," said Matt Kenseth, who drives the No. 17 Ford. "I think they thought it was going to separate things, but I think it's going to keep everyone bunched up more than what it did before because you're going to get everybody coming in and out of the pits."

In a familiar spot

Front Row Joe, as Joe Nemechek is known for his ability to qualify up front, put himself on the pole yesterday for Saturday's Koolerz 300 Busch Series race.

"You always know Joe has a lot more in a race car than he shows," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was beaten out by about a half-second. "It seems to be what people over in the Busch garage take pride in, hanging out in the weeds a little bit."

Nemechek's Pontiac ran 185.050, while Earnhardt's Chevrolet clocked 185.586.

Earnhardt, who is also on the outside pole for Sunday's Daytona 500, is leaving little doubt about the ability of the DEI cars this month. Other teams hoped the change in car shapes would blunt the strength of the DEI effort that has won three of the past four races here.

Donnie Neuenberger of Brandywine, Md., driving the No. 77 University of Maryland "Fear the Turtle" car, made the race. He clocked 181.947 mph and will start 32nd in the 43-car field.

Toyota trucks in

Toyota will enter the Craftsman Truck Series in 2004, becoming the first foreign vehicle manufacturer to compete in one of NASCAR's formerly all-American-made racing series.

"We're not surprised, by any means," said Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing Technology, reacting to the announcement. "It's been well-known in the industry that they have been looking at the Craftsman Truck Series as a possible means to prepare for a Winston Cup effort. They certainly have been active looking for talent in the NASCAR garages already."

Making dirt pay

World of Outlaws driver Steve Kinser, the only driver outside of NASCAR, Indy Car and road racing to win a race in the International Race of Champions, won the pole position yesterday for the IROC series opener tomorrow.

Kinser, who makes his living on dirt tracks, will start beside fellow WoO driver Danny Lasoski. A year ago, Lasoski started on the pole here in his first IROC race - which was also his first race on an asphalt track.

Twelve top drivers from WoO, NASCAR's Winston Cup, Busch and Truck Series and the IRL will compete in equally prepared cars over 40 laps. It will be the first of four races this season.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.