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.
What's New In NASCAR
The multi-car team is yet another staple of NASCAR Winston Cup racing in the year 2000, and that brings us to the other changes in stock car racing. One is the continuing climb in money in this industry. For this new season, the series sponsor, Winston, has doubled the point fund from five million to 10 million. That means the Champ crowned at the end of this year will get a base pay of over three million dollars, not counting what he makes in winnings and such. It's a far cry from the first Winston points program in 1971, which was also big money at the time with a $100,000 total payout.
Then there's the Mopar thing. When Ray Evernham left Hendrick Motorsports and his driver, Jeff Gordon, he set up camp for Team Mopar to make their return to NASCAR car racing next year. Ray is overseeing the construction of cars, working with NASCAR to turn the Dodge Intrepid into a racer, and will have two cars of his own to field in the 2001 Daytona 500. A total of seven Dodge teams are expected to come out swinging against old foes Chevy and Ford next season. This means more than another car to boo at for Chevy fans. It means those teams, both new and old, will be taking crewmembers from existing teams, and that could upset any team's momentum.
And speaking of Jeff Gordon, his new crew chief was indeed fit for a King, as Robbie Loomis now calls the shots for the #24 car. Loomis was crew chief on the King Richard Petty car where Petty told him he needed a 24-year-old Richard Petty for a driver. "Now," says Loomis, "What I have is a 28-year-old Jeff Gordon." Loomis smiles when he describes his new Chevys, "I think we're going to have some pretty good hot rods this year." At Hendricks, they had already built 23 new Chevys by January 1, and went on to build 60 percent completely new cars and re-skin the other 40 percent. Within those three teams, you're probably looking at close to 50 cars.
There is a persistent rumor that Hendrick Motorsports will build their own wind tunnel, but no official word either way has been released. Rick Hendrick, doing well with his health problems, summed up the three-car team's drive with, "We're going to win together or we're going to lose together."
Dale Jr. And Other Earnhardt News
Another new deal is the big battle brewing for the 2000 Raybestos Rookie of the Year (ROY) in Winston Cup racing. It includes no less than seven teams using all three brands of cars. Chevy fans will have an easy time cheering on their favorite, as there's a familiar name to watch at the head of the list. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will be going for the ROY title driving the Budweiser #8 Monte Carlo. Taking the maximum races he could last year (five), Little E, as he's sometimes known, will go the distance and hit all the races this year. The car is owned by his Dad, Dale Sr., and mom, Teresa Earnhardt. That makes Dale Sr. a multi-car team owner with the partner car number one driven by Steve Parks and wearing Pennzoil Oil colors. Dale Jr. is fresh off his second straight Busch Grand National Championship and should take to this type of racing without any major difficulty. We'll keep you posted.
Another Earnhardt will be hitting the tracks this year, but not with his family. Kerry Earnhardt will run selected super speedway races with the Automobile Racing Club of America's (ARCA) Bondo Mar-Hyde Super Car Series this year. ARCA cars are clones to NASCAR Winston Cup cars, thereby helping yet another Earnhardt follow his dad. They run races the day before at many NASCAR tracks, as well as short tracks and even dirt tracks. The team had a less than grand opening race at Daytona the week before the 500, but will reload and keep on racing the rest of the year.
Dad Earnhardt had some off-season back surgery but was well healed in time to climb back into his trusty #3 for Daytona. His new Monte Carlo, owned by Richard Childress, was painted with a special "Taz" orange paint scheme just for Daytona.
So with all the changes for Chevy, Ford and the rest of NASCAR, what's the read on this new season? Nothing other than business as usual. Racing pure and simple in the high banks, the short tracks and even the road courses. Trading paint, bouncing off walls and going for the checkered flag-the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The New 2000 Chevy NASCAR Truck
As the Nascar Craftsman Truck Series opens another year, there are a few notable changes both on and off the track. The biggest for Bow-Tie fans is another body change that should translate into a better race truck. When we previewed the '99 Chevy Silverado truck they had moved the roof pillar located on the back of the cab inboard from where it met the main bodyline. For the 2000 Silverado, they moved it inboard once again, as well as narrowing the front end by chopping the fenders. At Leading Edge Race Cars, where they hang bodies on cars and trucks, we saw not only the 2000 Chevy trucks being skinned but how the teams are retro-fitting the '99s into '00 versions. These two simple but highly effective body changes were major surgery back at the factory, but should yield significant results on the track. It works like this: the narrowed pillars allow more airflow to the bed, which, because it is covered with sheet steel, is a virtual tumble area for air moving over the taller roof. This move should set up a better flow across that cover and aid in the creation of rear downforce. The narrowed front end slices the air better and sets up the airflow around the cab and on to the bed. Why all the extra effort for better airflow on a mere race truck? That's because the NASCAR Craftsman trucks are now even more mainstream. As of Daytona Speedweek 2000, the trucks ran their biggest track ever. Running two days before the Daytona 500, the trucks ran without the usual Daytona- and Talladega-mandated restrictor plates and actually ran faster than the Winston Cup cars. The race was notable only because one truck got into the catch fence and pretty much got shredded. The driver, Geoffrey Bodine, suffered some broken bones and is okay, but the point here is that none of the incidents in the inaugural truck race came from the fact that the race vehicles were trucks. Look for this division to spread to other tracks and further instill their popularity on race fans.
The Intimidator's New Digs
When seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Dale Earnhardt does something, he does it all the way. That's probably how the man in black got to be a seven-time champ. When it came time to build his own shops for housing three separate NASCAR teams, Dale and wife, Teresa, pulled out all, and we mean all, the stops.
Dale and Teresa have owned a number of teams, but settled into a Busch Grand National one full time. Dale drove the car for a while when schedules did not conflict before handing the car over to a full-time driver. Soon after, the team added both a new NASCAR Craftsman truck team and a Winston Cup team. It quickly became apparent more room would be needed to house what would become a three-team business. With plans for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to enter the Winston Cup ranks full time in 2000, some serious shop space was needed.
Choosing a large parcel of land in "Race City"-Mooresville, North Carolina-ground was soon broken for what would clearly be the shop of shops in NASCAR. It is a work in progress, with what will be a final footprint of over 120,000 square-feet for the three teams. A first look at the building and one wonders if indeed this is a race car shop and not a high-level business office. The fact is, it is the business offices of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, and all the business that comes with DEI is handled there.
Dale and Teresa hand-picked virtually all the decor and combined their many years of racing into a state-of-the-art shop that also showcases their day-to-day operations. There's a few cars from Dale's past on display, as well as a gift shop carrying the latest Earnhardt merchandise. When you stop by, tell them Super Chevy sent you.