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Talledega becomes a Daytona tuneup

Slowing cars may aid NASCAR's showcase at the expense of today's superspeedway race.

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000


TALLADEGA, Ala. -- There could be no passing, no pulse-quickening moves and a leader from wire-to-wire.

Yet a Winston Cup driver will rarely complain a race is boring.

"It can be an in-line race and still be a good race from my standpoint because a lot of other factors are involved," Bill Elliott said. "I think it is how it's perceived by everyone else."

The message NASCAR sent by modifying rules for the Winston 500 today at Talladega Superspeedway is clear: Boring races do happen.

The sanctioning body slowed the cars aerodynamically for the sake of more competitive racing.

But the new rules were not designed with Talladega in mind.

They are in place for the benefit of the 2001 Daytona 500, essentially making the Winston 500 a four-hour experiment.

"I really didn't see a need for any of (these changes) for Talladega because it's already an exciting race," three-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon said. "I think they're wanting to basically put this in effect now to see if they need to make any adjustments for Daytona."

Three of the most competitive races in series history have come at Talladega and there were 27 lead changes in the DieHard 500 here in April.

In contrast, there were just 19 lead changes combined in the two races at Daytona this season (Daytona 500, Pepsi 400).

Special attention is being paid to next year's Daytona 500 not only because of the lack of passing at its two races this season.

It will be the first race under the six-year, $2.4-billion television rights contract agreement and also will mark Dodge's return.

"I think NASCAR is trying hard to see what the results will be here, that it can carry over to the Daytona 500 because with the new TV contracts," said Dave Marcis, who qualified ninth. "I'm sure that they're going to really study this thing hard and pick it all apart to hope that this will be the answer for the Daytona 500."

What's at stake in February is money.

More than 8-million watched the Daytona 500 this season and with a new network broadcasting the 2001 race, new fans and potential advertisers will be watching.

And judging.

"We can't have boring races," Jimmy Spencer said. "We've got to have excitement ... We've got to have good races because if we're going to keep selling 150,000 seats and want to get TV money and do all these things, we've got to put good races on."

Jeff Burton disagrees with the placing too much emphasis on one race next season.

"If our series revolves around having one good race at one race track, we've got major problems," he said.

"I think we've got to have good racing everywhere we go. I think the racing has been fine at Daytona. It all depends how you look at it. It's the most competitive racing in the world. If Daytona has not been as exciting as Talladega it's because of the race tracks, not because of the race cars."

NASCAR changed the cars.

The rules changes were decided on after an 11-car test in August at Daytona.

NASCAR opted to straighten the rear spoiler, lower the height of the front air dam and add a 1-inch strip across the roof. The objective: slow the cars by creating drag.

However, the restrictor plates used at Daytona and Talladega were altered twice. The plates limit horsepower by cutting air to the carburetor.

Restrictor plates with 1-inch holes were to be used. But after practice speeds Saturday reached 198 mph-plus, it reduced the size to 15/16s and slowed the cars down about 6 mph.

"Change isn't always for the better," Darrell Waltrip said. "It just seems like, the problem they have here is they're constantly making changes. You know, you can never get anything working."

Joe Nemechek, from Lakeland, will start first in the Winston 500, a race all drivers expect to feature several passes and at least a wreck or two.

Somewhere inside the 138,000-seat facility will be Daytona International Speedway president John Graham, watching what his Daytona 500 could look like next season.

"There's always an anticipation of what impact a Daytona 500 will have," Graham said. "That impact, year in and year out, has been very huge.

"Now this year, there are some additional elements. The re-entry of Dodge into NASCAR racing which adds a great element of excitement. The new television package, Fox will make its motorsports debut with racing's biggest event. The Daytona 500, historically, has been up to all of its advance billing and hopefully will be this year."

Winston 500

1 p.m. today, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

TV: ESPN. RADIO: WQYK-AM 1010, WAMR-AM 1320.

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