Originally created 02/12/02

Debate over aerodynamic rules gains momentum



DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- An extra quarter-inch off the top hardly seems enough to worry about. But NASCAR's decision to give Fords a shorter rear spoiler has others up in arms.

"I thought it was supposed to snow on Christmas," car owner Richard Childress said, gazing into the sunny sky on Monday.

Asked what he meant, the owner who fields three Chevrolet's was blunt.

"I thought it was Christmas after the present the Fords just got."

NASCAR will allow the Fords to reduce their spoilers - the winglike metal device at the rear of the trunklid - to 6 inches beginning Tuesday. The move is being taken because the Tauruses haven't been competitive at Daytona International Speedway.

The Fords have been slow in practice, had just two cars in the top 20 after the first round of time trials and brought up the rear in the Budweiser Shootout. Dale Jarrett was the highest Ford finisher, coming in sixth, but almost four seconds behind race winner Tony Stewart in a Pontiac.

So NASCAR approved the quarter-inch coming off the top, bringing the spoiler height down a full half-inch smaller than they were when the new aerodynamic package was introduced late last fall. NASCAR took the first quarter-inch away last month after the Fords tested poorly here under the new rules.

The Chevrolets, which most people believe have at least a slight advantage, are using a 6 1/4-inch rear spoiler, while both the Dodges and Pontiacs are at 6 1/2 inches.

But the move outraged the three other manufacturers. Opposing crew chiefs accused the Fords of everything from deliberately sabotaging their efforts to force NASCAR to give them relief to laziness in their preparation for Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500.

"Do your homework," said Greg Zipadelli, Stewart's crew chief. "We're driving a 7-year-old Pontiac, our body is so old I applied for antique plates, and we found a way to make it work."

Jimmy Spencer, who drove a Ford for nine seasons before switching to Dodge this year, said NASCAR unfairly helped the Fords without even considering giving the Intrepid relief. Spencer was 44th in the first round of time trials and said his Dodge was much slower than the Fords in Monday's practice - a day before the spoilers were reduced.

"They were hauling the mail down the straightaway, I thought they already had changed on the spoiler because they were going so fast," Spencer said. "I don't mind going to a prize fight, but I want to have a fighting chance."

The accusations offended the Ford teams, who quickly reached for the time sheets to show that the Pontiacs and Chevrolets have consistently picked up speed since the aero package was first tested in January, while the Fords have made almost no improvement.

"It's quite obvious to me who the sandbaggers are and they're over there in the Chevrolets. They're the only ones getting faster each time out," said Frankie Stoddard, crew chief for Jeff Burton's Ford. "And the Pontiacs are fast, too."

Stoddard was extremely upset over the allegations of a poor winter work ethic.

"That's just people who are immature and haven't been in the sport long enough to understand what's going on," he said.

NASCAR officials never bought into the Ford sandbagging theory, saying the results of Sunday's non-points race was enough of an indicator for them. Behind Jarrett, the other eight Ford entries finished between 10th and 21st in the 22-car field.

"These guys are racers," NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "When they get onto a race track it's to win a race."

The issue might not be settled any time soon, either. Helton said he'd be keeping a close eye on Thursday's twin 125-mile qualifying races to see how the competition is shaping up and too many discrepancies could lead to even more adjustments before Sunday's event.

"There's still some tweaking that can be done," Helton said. "Nothing is out of the question."