They say good things are worth waiting for. At the end of this NASCAR Winston Cup season, we'll see if that old statement holds true. The 2000 Chevy Monte Carlo, held up by NASCAR for an initial release in 1999, is finally on the track, and hopefully by the time you read this, back to winning. The car was originally slated to hit the track as early as May of last season, but NASCAR decided to hold it up until the start of this season. At the same time, arch-rival Ford revamped its car, the Taurus, after winning the Winston Cup title last year. That means both teams will be wringing out new sheetmetal for the better part of the season.
When a factory introduces a new race car, it has to follow a long and arduous path from factory lines to racing trim. It's more a process of making a body (any brand) fit the basic NASCAR racecar. We all know the drill about the cars being rear-wheel-drive on the track and front-wheel-drive on the street, but there's more to it than that. There's the basic NASCAR racecar "platform," to use the factory term, and that revolves around the 110-inch wheelbase all the cars have. Then the process is to develop a body that has approximately the same characteristics regarding Cd (coefficient of drag) and downforce as the competition. NASCAR's goals, in this order, are safety, competition, and cost. This means that any new car cannot be too much stronger than what it will be racing against. There are those that think the new Monte was way too good, thus the holdup in its release date. That same train of thought would also explain why the Taurus got more than the original facelift for 2000. And while that may indeed be just speculation, the bottom line is that there's finally a new Monte Carlo for Chevy fans to feel good about.
At the 17th annual UAW GM Motorsports Media Tour held at Lowes (formerly Charlotte) Motor Speedway, the new Monte said hello to the racing media. The new car has been called a Taurus with a pool table on the trunk, a Chevy with a Grand Prix tail section grafted on, and even more by race observers. The pool table moniker comes from the obviously longer decklid, long known to be an area of rear downforce. The nose is even more pointed when viewed from above, and has been smoothed out for more aerodynamics and front downforce. These days, a good oval-track race car walks the delicate balance between drag and downforce. Usually, when a car gets significantly more downforce, it is at the expense of drag, and vice versa. Aerodynamics equals speed and downforce equals handling. Both are highly sought after, hence the tightrope-like balance.
When we visited both Body Dynamics and Leading Edge Race cars, shops in the Charlotte area that specialize in hanging bodies on race cars, we saw just how the new Montes were being skinned. The new Monte Carlo also shows a neat little trick learned from Cousin Pontiac. Look closely at the rear spoiler and one can see it does not follow a flat decklid. The curvature of the rear decklid, and therefore the spoiler, keeps some of the rear spoiler out of the wind on the big tracks like Daytona and Talladega, where its actually a liability. On the intermediate tracks, where the majority of the races take place, the features of the new car are expected to scream around the track. The only work the teams should have to do is the usual tweaking to create a good balance on the car. Seeing how they pretty much do that year round, using a new car means starting over with a blank playbook. A new body also means new chassis settings, so each testing session is crucial to baseline data. That's why more and more teams are becoming multiple car teams. If they have two cars, they get twice the testing time. In the case of Rick Hendrick and his three-car team, well, you get the idea.