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Inside Motor Sports

Feb. 23, 1998
Feb. 23, 1998

Table of Contents
Feb. 23, 1998

College Basketball
Golf [bonus Piece]

Inside Motor Sports

PICKING UP SPEED

This is an article from the Feb. 23, 1998 issue Original Layout

The fortunes of the Indy Racing League have brightened
considerably since the end of last season. In January the IRL
signed a five-year sponsorship deal worth more than $5 million
with Pep Boys, the auto-parts chain. Then, in last month's
season opener at Disney World Speedway, for the first time there
were more entrants than starting spots for a race other than the
Indy 500. Though it wouldn't be an IRL race without a slew of
crashes--there were nine at the Mickyard, as the Disney track is
known--no one was hurt in that race, thanks largely to tougher
car safety standards implemented this year. What's more, the
league has its first star driver in Tony Stewart, 26, the 1997
IRL champion who continued his winning ways in Orlando.

The only cloud in this otherwise sunny picture is that Stewart
is angling for a full-time ride on the NASCAR circuit next
season. "At the end of the year we're going to run him in three
or four Cup races, and next year he'll be full time with us in
Winston Cup," says car owner Joe Gibbs, for whom Stewart is
running Busch series races this year when they don't conflict
with IRL events.

"He's going to get offered a lot of money to drive in Winston
Cup," says IRL executive director Leo Mehl. "We would miss him,
but I think we have other Tony Stewarts here in our series." If
that's true, it would be even more good news for the IRL.

New Taurus Rising
BUILT FOR THE SHORT TRACKS

Ford's Taurus may well wind up dominating the 1998 Winston Cup
season. The Taurus's extra aerodynamic drag, a liability at the
giant 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, creates desirable
downforce through the tight corners of shorter tracks such as
the one-mile oval at Rockingham, site of Sunday's race. "The
Taurus might be at a slight disadvantage to us at Daytona and
[2.66-mile] Talladega," says Richard Childress, who fields
Chevrolet Monte Carlos for Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner, "but
it'll be a kick-ass race car everywhere else we go."

The rear roofline of the Taurus curves downward more sharply
than that of the General Motors entries, the Monte Carlo and the
Pontiac Grand Prix, sending a greater volume of air onto the
spoiler and thus creating the downforce that increases traction
and maneuverability.

Winston Cup cars have for decades been anything but stock, but
they maintained the silhouettes of the street models whose names
they bore. But to make the Taurus race-ready, Ford engineers got
permission from NASCAR to raise the car's nose seven inches and
the trunk lid five inches. The result is a race car that bears
scant resemblance to the Taurus, that staple of rental fleets.
That doesn't sit well with GM teams. So watch for NASCAR--in an
effort to create a level racing field--to jigger its rules on
spoiler and front air-dam heights as the season goes on. And bet
on the whining about unfair rules to continue from both sides of
the Ford-GM divide.

Team Uniformity
PENSKE SHOWS HIS TRUE COLORS

Roger Penske and his Winston Cup racing partner, Michael
Kranefuss, have introduced a revolutionary concept to NASCAR: a
team that actually looks like a team. The pair have painted
their Ford Tauruses, driven by Rusty Wallace and Jeremy
Mayfield, in nearly identical blue-and-white schemes and
eliminated about two thirds of the decals that adorn most
Winston Cup quarter panels. Both drivers and their crews wear
uniforms that are, well, uniform. The result is higher
visibility for each car's sponsor, in this case, Miller Lite and
Mobil Oil.

Identical paint jobs have been the norm for years with teams in
Formula One and CART. Penske's two-car CART team is sponsored by
Marlboro, and the only way to tell his racers apart is by their
numbers. But that's not so in NASCAR, where, for example, the
most powerful team--Hendrick Motorsports--is distinctly
color-uncoordinated.

Penske-Kranefuss people say their new approach makes them feel
more like a team. And they've added another twist, an intense
debriefing of its drivers after practice and qualifying rounds.
Most Winston Cup drivers and their crew chiefs talk informally
after such runs, but the Penske-Kranefuss format is more formal
than the usual garage talk. Such debriefings helped make Penske
the winningest owner in CART history, with 99 victories. Will it
work in NASCAR? It can't hurt. Penske has 34 Winston Cup
victories, well off his open-wheel pace.

Pit Stops
GETTING A GRIP ON BAD WEATHER

Goodyear announced last Friday that it will provide rain tires
for the Winston Cup road race at Watkins Glen on Aug. 9. Rain
and stock cars usually don't mix, but Goodyear says the treaded
tires will dissipate water sufficiently so that racing will be
safe. Rain tires still don't work on banked ovals because the
tread makes the tires grip too hard and wear too fast while
going through corners.... A recently published book, The NASCAR
Way, makes two claims about the financial health of Winston Cup
racing that should have the France family, who own NASCAR,
smiling all the way to the bank. The book claims that the
50-year-old stock car circuit is the only major sports league
that could not only survive but also continue to flourish
without a TV contract. Here's part of the reason why: In a
survey of 1,000 racing fans, respondents were able to identify
more than 200 companies and brands associated with NASCAR.

For more racing news from Ed Hinton, check out www.cnnsi.com

COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE TIEDEMANN SHOOTING STAR The first driver to make a name on the IRL circuit, Stewart has eyes for NASCAR. [Tony Stewart and his car]COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE TIEDEMANN NEW UNIFORM Penske's look-alike cars bring a sense of style to Winston Cup racing. [Team race cars with identical colors]

FAST FACTS

Looks Are Everything

What makes a new NASCAR car model "new"? Mostly body changes,
which affect aerodynamics and handling. As a rule, new race cars
don't do all that well in their first year on the Winston Cup
circuit, as crews incessantly tinker with the sheet metal,
airdams, spoiler and glass in an attempt to find the perfect
combinations that will get their machines to Victory Circle.
Here's how some models recently introduced to the Winston Cup
tour have done in their rookie seasons and thereafter.

1983 Ford "Aero" Thunderbird First-year victories: 4
Sleek T-Bird finally flies in '85 when Bill Elliot wins 11 races

1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme First-year victories: 2
After winning 11 races in five years, Oldsmobile fades from the
series

1986 Buick LeSabre First-year victories: 3
Newly designed rear window helps get Buick back in the win column

1986 Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 First-year victories: 2
One of a handful of GM's limited production models allowed to race

1989 Chevrolet Lumina First-year victories: 9
Lasts six years and wins 61 races before being replaced by Monte
Carlo

1995 Chevrolet Monte Carlo First-year victories: 21
Jeff Gordon wins seven races and the Winston Cup title that year

1996 Pontiac Grand Prix First-year victories: 1
Flying brick gets a face-lift but lingers at the back of the pack

1998 Ford Taurus First-year victories: 0, so far
First four-door race car in NASCAR history replaces much-loved
T-Bird

THE DEAL

31
The number of races Dale Earnhardt has won in more than two
decades of competition at Daytona International Speedway.
Although it took the Intimidator 20 attempts before he finally
won the Daytona 500, his performance in other events run on the
2.5-mile tri-oval has been impressive. His non-500 wins at
Daytona include two Winston Cup Pepsi 400s, four International
Race of Champion all-star events, seven Busch series races, six
Bud Shootouts and 11 Gatorade 125s--the qualifying races for the
Daytona 500.