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Making a case

Jarrett, other Ford drivers cry foul ... and plant the seed

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Posted: Monday February 12, 2001 10:08 AM

  Dale Jarrett Dale Jarrett thinks the Fords have a 10 horsepower drag disadvantage. AP

By John Donovan,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It's all about getting the slightest of edges in Winston Cup racing. A tenth of a second in a pit stop. A half of an inch in a draft.

The merest shadow of a doubt.

Dale Jarrett, the defending champion of the Great American Race, says now that everyone has an edge but the guys driving Fords. He says the Fords he's running are at a competitive disadvantage because of NASCAR's new aerodynamic package.

"The bitchin' and complainin's starting," he said Sunday. "They know we're at a 10 horsepower drag disadvantage."

They, of course, are the NASCAR officials who designed the new setup for the cars. The idea behind the new package is to make for better racing -- meaning more lead changes -- for next Sunday's 500.

The package seemed to pay off in Sunday's Budweiser Shootout, a 70-lap feature raced by Winston Cup's elite drivers. It saw 19 lead changes among seven different drivers. Tony Stewart, in a Pontiac, won.

Jarrett never led an entire lap. He finished fourth.

"When it comes to getting going you can draft right up there," he said of his Ford, "but once you get there it just stops."

Jarrett got some backing on his claims from Jeff Burton, who also drives a Ford.

"There's not a Ford in the field that had a chance to win, and that's just the way it is," Burton said after Sunday's race. "We won't win the Daytona 500 unless it turns into something that is strange."

Still, Rusty Wallace, who finished third in the Shootout in another Ford, said he thought the Fords may have been at a slight disadvantage. But that's where he stopped.

"You know what? You're not gonna catch this cat complaining," he said, "because we swapped the lead back and forth several times and I thought it was pretty equal."

In what they called a pre-planned move, NASCAR officials impounded one of each of the manufacturer's cars after the Shootout -- a Ford, a Chevrolet, a Pontiac and a Dodge -- to test in a wind tunnel outside of Atlanta.

The results of those tests aren't likely to change anything for next Sunday's race. But whatever comes of the tests, Jarrett has made his beliefs known. He has planted the seed of doubt. He has made everyone wonder.

It may not work for the 500. But it may give Jarrett all the edge he needs somewhere down the road.

With Dodges already cemented into the front row for the Daytona 500 after Saturday's qualifying laps, the second round of qualifying today will help set the lineup for Thursday's twin 125s, which will determine most of the starting grid for the 500. Can Jerry Nadeau come back from his disqualification in Saturday's qualifiers? We'll see.

The week to come
After today's qualifying, the week turns to the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series before Thursday's 125s. It's not Winston Cup heaven, but that's coming, folks.

The NASCAR police
Disqualifying Nadeau. Impounding cars after the Shootout. NASCAR officials always want to make sure no one's doing anything sneaky. With this new aero package, they've become positively Big Brother-like.

Tony Stewart
Might seem like the easy choice after his Shootout win. But we're picking him because any guy who claims not to like blocking -- yet does it with the best of them -- is either really honest or really sneaky. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Dodge Or is Awesome Bill just fooling us again?
Pontiacs Stewart, the winner, and Bobby Labonte both ran well Sunday
Aerodynamics We like it! We like it!
70-lap Shootout These guys can do that blindfolded
The track Don't let the pictures fool you -- it's a bumpy road out there

Gear up for this, gearheads: Practice, a little Cup qualifying, more practice, some truck qualifying, some more practice, some Busch qualifying ... Thursday seems like a long, long way away at this point.

Related information
Stewart holds off Earnhardt to win Budweiser Shootout
Dodge team has plenty of work to do for the 500
NASCAR hits its mark with a wild Shootout in Daytona
Dale Jarrett expects officials to take notice of the Fords' disadvantage -- but doesn't expect them to act right away. (103 K)
Bill Elliott admits he anticipated such difficulty along the way. (92 K)
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