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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING

Taurus' Horoscope: New Rules Ahead

March 06, 1998|SHAV GLICK

In their continuing effort to maintain parity among the makes of cars that compete in the Winston Cup, NASCAR officials seem to please no one.

The Ford camp, although it swept the first seven positions in last Sunday's Las Vegas 400, is incensed that NASCAR has changed rules so swiftly. A change in the aerodynamic qualities of the Taurus was made earlier this week, effective for Sunday's Primestar 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

On the other side, owners and drivers of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix are incensed that the change was so slight, saying that it won't change the disparity in performance.

At the center of the storm is the Taurus, Ford's replacement this year for the discontinued Thunderbird.

The war of words started before the racing Taurus was ever built. General Motors people claimed that NASCAR made too many aerodynamic concessions, that the four-door Taurus in the showroom bore little resemblance to the sleek model on the race track. Ford people countered that they had not had enough development time to make the new model competitive.

The racing Taurus is 195 inches long, 71 1/2 inches wide and 51 inches high, compared to the production model, which is 197 1/2 inches long, 73 inches wide and 55.1 inches high. The race car also weighs 47 pounds more than the street model.

NASCAR, in an effort to reduce escalating speeds for all cars, introduced a new rule, called the "five-and-five," to take effect after the season-opening Daytona 500, which was exempt because it already had a carburetor restricter plate rule to slow the cars on its high banking.

The ruling mandated that both Fords and Chevrolets use five-inch rear spoilers and front air dams.

After only two races under the five-and-five rule, NASCAR this week pared a quarter-inch off the Ford's rear spoiler.

"It's unfair, it's unfair, it's unfair," wailed car owner Jack Roush, who had five of his Fords cars in the first 10 finishers last Sunday, including winner Mark Martin.

"The first reason it's unfair is that we Ford guys are being painted in a light of saying that we went off and brought forward this killer car and that we made a deliberate, conscious effort to upstage the rest of the competition and that we misled NASCAR or deceived them and perpetrated this terrible deed on them and that's not true.

"This car was a hip shot. In less than six months from the time it was conceived by Ford, it was presented to the race track. We aren't bad guys by having tricked or fooled or deceived anybody by bringing a car that was better than it should have been. We don't think it's better than it should be. We think it's competitive with the Thunderbird at the short tracks and it's not as good as the Thunderbird at the restricted races."

Yeah, right, says the Chevy side.

"That rule change isn't even a good Band-Aid," said Richard Childress, owner of the car driven by Dale Earnhardt.

And Felix Sabates, another Chevy owner: "It's like trying to stick you finger in the Hoover Dam to stop the leak. Ford just outsmarted everybody. I don't blame them. They were crying and crying and crying all winter when they knew they had a better car. The squeaky wheel really got the grease this time."

Added Ray Evernham, crew chief for Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon's Chevy, "Would six more bullets have helped Custer? That rule change is like giving Custer six more bullets at the Little Bighorn.

"What I don't like is that Ford was allowed to design a car specifically as a race car. The Monte Carlo is still a production car. There's no production Taurus to compare it to.

"And I don't like for them to keep saying they just want it to be equal and then they have a car that's twice as good aerodynamically. It's ruined the 1998 season for a lot of people. It's cost the Chevy owners millions of dollars."

Bill France Jr., NASCAR president, hit the nail on the head when he said, "I guess it's just not possible to make everybody happy. But we're going to continue to evaluate the performances of the various makes, just like we always do."

FORMULA ONE

One of the great mysteries of motor sports is how world championship series for Formula One automobiles and motorcycles can be contested without a race in the United States.

The F1 cars have not raced in the U.S. since the dismal affair on the streets of Phoenix in 1991 and the Grand Prix motorcycles have been silent on these shores since they raced at Laguna Seca Raceway in 1994.

Now the 1998 season is about to start and there still is no U.S. involvement, although F1 czar Bernie Eccelstone has apparently commissioned Chris Pook to find a site for a race in the States. However, after the job Eccelstone did in fleecing Phoenix of millions a few years ago, Pook may find the job difficult.

The Formula One season opens Sunday--Saturday here--with the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne. As usual, it is bathed in controversy.

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