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Deja vu all over again

Copyright © 2001 Lawrence A. Cole. All rights reserved. March 2001.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. For NASCAR and Dodge, it's the same old story…slow the Dodge down.

With Dodge hardly blistering the Winston Cup circuit, having one pole and zero wins, NASCAR, on behalf of Dodges old nemesis, Ford, has instituted a rule change for the upcoming Talladega Speedway race. Well, two rule changes actually. One to speed up the Fords, one to slow down the Dodges.

Effective at Talladega, the Fords will be allowed to decrease the Taurus rear spoiler from 59" to 57", thereby eliminating "drag" and allowing higher top speeds. Dodge, on the other hand, must continue to run the 59" spoiler, the same as the Pontiac Gran Prix. The Chevrolet Monte Carlo also will continue to run a 57" spoiler, joining the Ford in that category. However, Dodge will be the only team that must modify its roof deflector. Currently, the deflector is 1 3/8" tall, and followed the contour of the roof. The new rule change mandates that the roof deflector still remain 1 3/8" tall, but now must be "square" across the top, thereby creating more drag, thus slowing the Dodge down.

Leading the complaint department was Dale Jarrett, driver of the UPS Ford Taurus, and current Winston Cup points leader. From the first day of Speedweeks in February at Daytona, Jarrett cried that the Fords couldn't compete with the aero package they had. Ironically, the change comes the week after Jarrett won the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington, breaking a stranglehold on Chevrolet's dominance this year. And Jarrett has had two pole starts this year, something that Dodge hasn't been able to do. What is even more remarkable, is that Ford drivers had claimed that the Dodge Intrepid R/T was basically a Taurus. So why was a change needed?

"The Dodges were 20 or 30 horsepower better than we were. This change will move us in the right direction, maybe cutting half of their advantage" claims Greg Specht, North American operations manager for Ford Racing Technology, apparently forgetting that is was Chevrolet that finished first and second at Daytona, followed by two Fords, then a Dodge.

Yet Specht still isn't satisfied that Ford was coddled enough.

"At the plate tracks we were at a disadvantage compared to everybody. Taking two inches off of our spoiler brings us even with the Chevy and the Pontiac, but I'm not convinced that the roof spoiler change brings Dodge back to the other three makes."

Brings Dodge back to the other three makes?

Dodge, the car that was out of racing for 25 years? The same Dodge that NASCAR tested and tested in wind tunnels to avoid this very thing? The same Dodge engine that had parts rejected by NASCAR because they produced too much horsepower? Is this the same the same Dodge we are talking about?

Apparently so.

And it's not only the Dodge boys who are raising their collective eyebrows over their heads. Even rival Pontiac doesn't understand the move.

"We're disappointed," said James Ince, the crew chief for driver Johnny Benson's No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac. "It's going to help the Ford out a lot on the superspeedways. I'm not sure why NASCAR did what it did today."

"Pontiac hasn't won a race this year and NASCAR hasn't helped us out. The Fords have whined and it's paying off. We were the best Pontiac at two superspeedways last year and got outran by the Fords. It's not going to affect the Pontiac at Talladega but this will surely help the Ford and hurt the Dodge," Ince continued.

And so what else is new when NASCAR and Ford get together, and the target is Dodge? One wonders what Dodge will do now. Will they sit quietly? Or will they stir up the nest as they once did? Only time will tell, but if I had just laid out the money that Dodge did to get back into NASCAR racing, I think I would be screaming loud and long, then thanking Ford for proving that Dodge is the better of the two cars.
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