DOVER, Del. Before NASCAR can move to the future it has to take a step backward, its director of competition said.
John Darby, the man responsible for making rules in the Winston Cup Series, doesn't hide the fact he's frustrated by the fact that racing has become too smart for its own good.
Cars are engineered so perfectly and tires are built to last forever. Although that's good for daily use on the highway, it's turned what used to be the most competitive form of racing in the world into little more than follow the leader.
Want proof? Only one race in more than two years has featured a lead change on the final lap. According to the Gaston Gazette, less than 12.5 percent of the lead changes this year have come at full speed during green flag conditions. The rest have been the result of caution flags and pit stops.
Cars are so dependent on aerodynamics for downforce they need the full complement of circulation on the front and back bumpers to maintain traction.
When cars get in traffic, they lose downforce and can't pass.
Darby hasn't been oblivious to the fact that aerodynamics play the most-important role in racing today. That's why he wants to change it.
''We want more of an emphasis on the mechanical side,'' he said. ''We want to get it back to where aero-grip doesn't become a dependable tool.''
Each team was notified recently that three-quarters of an inch would be removed from the rear spoiler in 2004. That will dramatically reduce the amount of rear-wheel downforce and force teams to find other ways to find traction in the turns. While a three-quarter-inch reduction doesn't sound like much, it will force every team to rebuild their fleet of cars.
''It's going to make you pay attention to what's important when you build your cars,'' car owner Eddie Wood said. ''When you change the rear spoiler, you have to redo the front end. You'll have to find a new balance in the car. It's a lot of work, but I think it's a step in the right direction.''
And according to Darby, it's only one of many ideas on the drawing board designed to make the cars racier.
''It all started a couple years ago when we got all of the brands balanced (through common templates),'' Darby said.
''By getting the cars similar to each other, it meant we can look for solutions for one problem, not spend our time looking for solutions to each of the manufacturers. That was a very important first step.''
Now that most of the templates fit the Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Fords and Dodges on the circuit, Darby said one rule - the three-quarter-inch reduction in the rear spoiler - affects everyone the same.
The next step, he said, is working with the Goodyear Rubber and Tire Co. on developing new tires. Goodyear has gotten so good, if not too good, with the construction of their current tires it's common for teams to run hundreds of laps on the same tires because they don't wear out.
''I've been yelling for two years they need to soften the tires up to put the driver back in the equation,'' said Rusty Wallace. ''The way the tires are now, you can drive as hard as you can on every lap because you don't have to worry about wearing them out.''
Darby said once the teams are settled on the three-quarter-inch reduction, he will move to changing the tires.
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