NASCAR experiments with aerodynamics

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Twenty drivers took part in a NASCAR-sponsored test session at
Talladega Superspeedway on Monday in an effort to find a way to
make racing at the big track safer and less stressful for the

"We've just come to help NASCAR and see what we can do,"
driver Sterling Marlin said. "We'll get through the day and see
what we come up with."

NASCAR officials put the drivers through their paces with
sessions of 20 and 15 laps, allowing them to try several difficult
aerodynamic-restrictor plate combinations in race-like situations.
Plates with holes of three different sizes were used in combination
with or without the rooftop flap added to the cars last year and
with rear spoilers set at several angles.

"We couldn't have learned the things we did in a single-car
test or in the wind tunnel or dyno-type tests," explained Winston
Cup director Gary Nelson. "We needed a pack of cars to help us
obtain all that we did.

"The idea was to make the current aero-package more efficient
and to do so, we changed the plate size, rear spoiler angle and
removed the air deflector on the roof. Our next step is to take
the information gathered and analyze all of it. That will obviously
assist us in our decision process."

Talladega and Daytona International Speedway are the only tracks
at which the horsepower-sapping plates are used on a regular basis
to slow the cars in the interest of driver and spectator safety.

Drivers have been complaining in recent years that the plates
had taken away throttle response from the cars and left the drivers
without the ability to get out of dangerous situations. NASCAR
responded last year with aerodynamic rules changes that gave the
cars more response but also made it easier to pass and made
virtually the entire race field more even.

Close, spectacular racing -- with two- and three-wide packs -- has
made at least one huge, multicar crash just about inevitable at
each plate race.

"We started in the morning with a 60-degree spoiler and a 29/32
(inch) restrictor plate," said team owner Ray Evernham, who fields
cars for Bill Elliott and Casey Atwood. "Then we moved to a
7/8-inch plate and no roof spoiler. Or maybe it was the other way

"Anyway, we tried those combinations and looked at how they
affected the cars on the track. Speeds were in the 190 miles per
hour range in the packs."

Nelson said, "Now keep in mind, the speeds at Daytona and
Talladega, more so Talladega, have been satisfactory. We wanted to
maintain that pace but with a lower drag combination. With the
number of teams here testing, we received an unprecedented amount
of input from the drivers. We were able to zero in on what the
driver was feeling after a run."

After each session, NASCAR officials, team members and drivers
gathered to discuss how each combination worked.

"We've run good here in the past," Marlin said. "We'd just
like to get it to where we can get out from under everybody."

After the first session, Marlin said, "So far I like it better
than it was. Now we have to be precise with our passing. It's not
as easy to pass as it was, but you have that control."

All four automakers competing in the Winston Cup series --
Chevrolet, Ford, Pontiac and Dodge -- took part in the test.

Other drivers participating in the tests included Dave Marcis,
driving for Richard Childress Racing, Rusty Wallace, Kyle Petty,
John Andretti, Joe Nemechek, April Talladega winner Bobby Hamilton,
Jimmy Spencer, Todd Bodine, Elliott Sadler, Ward Burton, Michael
, Ricky Rudd, Jerry Nadeau, Kevin Lepage, Johnny Benson, Ken
and, coming off a victory Saturday night in Bristol,
Tenn., Tony Stewart.

The only remaining restrictor plate race on the 2001 schedule is
the EA Sports 500 on Oct. 21, at Talladega.