Home Depot Racing: New Rules Rule the Desert

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NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams entered 2004 facing a myriad of changes from 2003. A new title sponsor in Nextel and a new fuel supplier in Sunoco were amongst them, but what really changed the playing field was a softer tire compound developed by Goodyear and a reduction in rear spoiler height implemented by NASCAR. But two races into the 36-race schedule, it's difficult to see just how the reduced rear spoiler height coincides with the softer tire. And that's because the first two races on the schedule were anomalies. The season-opening Daytona 500 was a restrictor plate race, where the rear spoiler height was actually increased a half-inch from last year in an effort to curb speeds at one of the series' fastest race tracks. And at Rockingham (N.C.), the most recent race on the schedule, the tire used was of the same compound used during last year's race in November. So it is Las Vegas Motor Speedway, home to the March 7 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, which will be the first venue where the softer tire and the new five-and-a-half-inch rear spoiler finally meet. The combination of less rear spoiler and a softer tire should allow for better racing, with race cars being less "aero dependent", a term used to describe the unique handling characteristics cars experienced while in traffic. Race tracks such as the 1.5-mile oval at Las Vegas have in year's past led to finishes based upon fuel mileage and pit strategy, as gains for position were made by either staying out on the race track longer than one's counterparts, or by opting for two tires over four during a late race pit stop. Tactics like those were employed out of necessity, because making a pass on the race track proved difficult, if not impossible, as harder compound tires were stuck to the track thanks to the huge amounts of downforce being generated by the higher rear spoiler. The new rules rip those tactics from a crew chief's clipboard. Whenever there's an opportunity to pit, teams will take four tires. With the softer compound, tire wear will be significant. Those taking only two tires will see their speeds drop significantly in relation to those who took four tires. And as tire wear increases, so too does the role of the driver. Handling becomes more of an issue, and the driver who best wheels his car around the track's 12-degree banking will be the driver who ends up in victory lane.
Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Led Earnings
2003 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 8 5 Running/267 0 $162,753
2002 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 15 5 Running/267 76 $153,953
2001 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 5 12 Running/267 4 $86,875
2000 *CarsDirect.com 400 16 2 Running/148 0 $221,250
1999 Las Vegas 400 20 36 Running/184 0 $46,200

* Race called short due to rain.
The Home Depot is NASCAR's Home Improvement Warehouse

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