ATLANTA - It seems like NASCAR can't do anything right lately.
The sanctioning body that governs stock car racing has been criticized for being ill-prepared to handle the crush of attention that followed Dale Earnhardt's death on Feb. 18, for not being receptive to drivers' concerns about safety and for a new rule that outlaws the rubber wedges in suspension springs.
Now comes word that NASCAR is about to mandate a new rule that can save every race team as much as $50,000 a week and make it easier for the have-nots to run in the fast lane.
And yet, everyone's still not happy.
It's been easy, perhaps too easy, to concentrate on all the problems of the sport. And since NASCAR makes the rules - and gets a cut of every profit - it is being held responsible.
For the most part, that's fair.
NASCAR clearly wasn't prepared to handle Earnhardt's death and it hasn't been too receptive to complaints about a special rules package for Talladega, Ala., and Daytona Beach, Fla.
Drivers said the aerodynamic package for the two fastest speedways makes the cars too equal and therefore, too close for comfort. There were two accidents during the Daytona 500 that started in heavy traffic.
The first involved 19 cars. The second left Earnhardt dead.
The loss of rubber wedges, known as "bump rubbers" was a surprise.
Race teams often start a race with bump rubbers in the front springs to reduce the amount of bounce in the front wheels. If the suspension is too rigid, it's relatively easy to remove a rubber and change the handling characteristic of the car.
Drivers and car owners have been openly critical of the change, especially since each already has thousands of dollars worth of bump rubbers and springs, as well as volumes of testing information gained with the devices.
"You go to the garage area and talk to all the drivers and not one of them, not one crew chief and one driver, wanted a rule change," said driver Jimmy Spencer of the bump rubber rule. "It's a bunch of malarkey that they do, you know? That's what's bad about NASCAR sometimes - making decisions and not listening to the competitors doing it."
When NASCAR limits the number of engines used during an entire racing weekend to one by next month's race at Loudon, N.H., it may prove to be one of the most significant cost-cutting moves in the sport's history.
It costs more than $25,000 to build a single race engine on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Teams traditionally bring a special engine for qualifying, a special engine for practice and a race engine.
The teams with the richest budgets can afford to put a lot more work - and a lot more money - into their engine development for all three engines. They know a qualifying engine only needs to last a couple of laps and a practice engine's only job is to keep miles off the race engine.
Busch Series teams have been playing by the single-engine rule for two years. It's been regarded as a necessary change to keep the staggering costs under control.
NASCAR allows Busch teams to change a damaged engine, but the penalty is to start the race from last place.
By limiting each team to one engine, teams will have to find a better balance between speed for qualifying and durability for practice and the main event. Teams that can't afford tricked engines for time trials now can qualify closer to the front. That should spread the opportunity to win a little deeper in the starting lineup.
So where's the praise?
"I agree with a lot of things NASCAR wants to do; sometimes I don't agree with the way they implement them," said car owner Ray Evernham. "This engine thing, down the road, it probably is a good thing. (But) probably you ought to give the guys a little more notice than New Hampshire.
"Their intent was good, but by the same token, they've got to make sure there's no way around it because the person who has the most money and most time is going to figure a way around it."
Much like critics keep finding ways around giving NASCAR credit for a good decision.
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