NASCAR

McGEE: Whine to flow in Vegas with new bodies

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Ryan McGee

 
   
 
WHINE AND CHEESE CROWD IN LAS VEGAS, BUSCH DARKHORSE, TRUCK BLACK JACK DEALER, PETTY'S PEARLY-WHITE WISDOM
Before Sunday's race at Las Vegas, you might want to hit the Piggly Wiggly and load up on cheese.

Because, believe you me brothers and sisters, the whine is coming.

2003 has brought an all-new Chevy Monte Carlo, an all-new Pontiac Grand Prix, and a new nose on the Dodge Intrepid. Only the Ford Taurus has retained primarily the same body shape from last season. And in a racing tradition as old as "Gentlemen, start your engines," everyone thinks the other guys have it better than he does.

Everyone's goal? Downforce, downforce, downforce. The lower a car can get to the track surface, the faster it goes and the better it handles. Each and every team wants as little space as humanly possible between their front bumper and the asphalt below. The perfect race car acts like an upside down airplane wing, letting the air above push it straight down. In open wheel racing, downforce is achieved using gigantic wings on the nose and tail of the Indy or Formula One machine. In stock car racing, that tiny rear spoiler on the rear trunk lid can only do so much. Thus, the ridiculous amount of emphasis placed on the shape of everything from the nose to the hood to the windshield to the type of housing that TV networks use on in-car cameras.

So, who is the leader in the battle for aero-smash supremacy?

We will know pretty soon on Sunday.

"Vegas is wide, and it is very flat," says car owner Ray Evernham, flagship dude for the Dodge camp. "At Daytona, it was all about cutting through the air and racing in the draft. Rockingham was a little more of a downforce test, but nothing like Las Vegas."

"It's flat," adds , who finished second to his little brother, Jeff, in 1999. "The turns are real long, and it's almost like you're in the turns the whole way around there. Everyone wants to stay on the bottom so the key to being able to pass is being able to go out into a second lane and go around somebody. The only way you can do that is if your car is getting enough downforce -- and grip -- to go out there and make that move."

Daytona is banked a super-steep 31 degrees in the turns and is all about hammer-down straight ahead wind tunnel aerodynamics. Rockingham, though only a little over a mile long, is banked 22-25 degrees, but its habit of shredding tires into confetti doesn't allow for a lot of constructive aero information.

Vegas is sloped at only 12 degrees. The race is characteristically filled with long green-flag runs and a minimal amount of tire wear. You want to know how good your car handles in the perfect laboratory environment? You'll hit all sevens at LVMS.

"I think there is some serious concern in the Chevy camp right now," Jeff Hammond said on Wednesday's . "At Daytona, they led 104 of 109 laps. At Rockingham, they led zero. If they have that same kind of weekend this week, let's just say they will not be very happy."

In 1998, NASCAR's first visit to Vegas, the Ford Taurus was making just its third appearance in a real, live race. After solid showings (but no wins) over the first two weekends of the year, Vegas turned into a blue-oval desert ambush. Fords took 13 of the top 15 finishing positions.

, in a Pontiac Grand Prix at the time, stepped up after the race as spokesperson for the entire General Motors army. "Maybe if they had stopped the race halfway, and we could have gotten a rule change, we might have been competitive. Maybe. NASCAR has to do something before (next week at) Atlanta. Right now, it's an unlevel playing field, and by crap, they'd better do something about it. It's ridiculous."

The good news -- it's a different racing world than we were living in back in 1998. NASCAR's longtime dream of common race car bodies is nearly a reality. This season, nearly all of the 32 templates used to keep teams honest are identical, no matter what type of car they race. When the new Ford Taurus makes its debut next February, the plan will be nearly complete ... and the bitching could be all but gone.

"I think a lot of the complaining will eventually go away to some extent," says Winston Cup Series Director John Darby. "As the cars become basically the same, there just won't be much room to have an advantage over the next guy. But don't get me wrong, the complaining will always be there in some shape or form. I hope it never goes completely away. To tell you the truth, I kind of enjoy it."

Ryan McGee is the managing editor of and on Fox Sports Net.

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    Hornaday has never won at LVMS, but in six career starts covering all three of NASCAR's major series, he has never finished outside of the top 10. He clinched both of his Craftsman Truck titles in the desert and even managed a ninth-place finish in A.J. Foyt's lowly Winston Cup ride back in 2001.

    Truck Stop
    , last season's Truck Series Rookie of the Year, got 2003 off to a sweet start with a 10th-place run at Daytona. While the series awaits Darlington in two weeks, Gaughan has headed home to Vegas for this weekend's races.

    Gaughan, son of a casino owner, is a licensed black jack dealer, Baja 1000 racer and former football and basketball player at Georgetown. In January, Allen Iverson's former practice defender tried out for the Las Vegas Gladiators Arena Football team as a placekicker.

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