Motorsports: NASCAR tries to achieve balance in competition

NASCAR has bent over backwards the last several years trying to achieve

balance in competition. This past week it achieved a balance of ideas - one

good one, and one really bad one.

The good idea came from Jack Roush, whose engineers adapted a passive system incorporating two sensors, one on the intake manifold and one on the brake assembly. The system, originally designed for CART by former chief steward Wally Dallenbach, uses sensors measure changes in pressure. When a driver applies 850 to 900 pounds of pressure to the brakes and the engine manifold pressure indicates full, or nearly full throttle, the system shuts off the engine.

In tests at Darlington, Jeff Burton proved the system worked by

jumping on the brakes while holding the throttle to the floor - the engine

shut off every time. However, when he applied the brakes while letting off

the throttle, the engine kept running. A NASCAR inspector who witnessed the

test recommended that Roush proceed with development and production of the system, and live track testing on seven cars has been taking place this weekend.

Jeff Burton's Busch Series car had one on board in Friday night's Autolite 250,

and last night's Chevrolet 400 Winston Cup event, saw Burton, Bobby Labonte,

Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart and Jeremy Mayfield all using the

system. Interestingly, Labonte was victim of a stuck throttle in practice at

Darlington, and didn't use the kill switch - he forgot it was there, and

smacked the wall in Turn 3.

On the opposite side of the coin is NASCAR's apparent decision to require

one-inch restrictor plates for next Sunday's race at New Hampshire. I say

apparent, because the decision was still not official, although teams were already starting to work on engines based on use of the plate.

"I'd say it's a done deal," said Doug Yates, engine chief for Robert Yates Racing.

It looks like a typical case of "ready, fire, aim." The plate will reduce the

horsepower to the level of a Busch Grand National car. Does anybody remember what Adam Petty was driving when he was killed in New Hampshire?

Those who answered "a Busch Grand National car" can go to the head of the class.

The concern is that the plate will slow the straightaway speeds and increase the corner speeds. With less power on the straights, the drivers will go deeper into the corners.

If a throttle sticks, there will be just that much time less to react before they hit the wall. Aside from the safety aspects, the move puts the teams in a real time and cost crunch to prepare engines for the race, which will negatively impact preparation for the Talladega restrictor plate race coming up just four weeks later. NASCAR gets a big thumbs down on this scheme.

Moving over to the CART scene, the Champ Cars will be running at Laguna Seca in Monterey today. The points battle really tightened up with Paul Tracy's popular win at Vancouver last Sunday.

The Team Kool Green cars had the field covered, and Barry Green was emphatic that Dario Franchitti maintain station behind Tracy in the closing laps, after Franchitti lost the lead by stalling the engine in the pits. Given the prediliction these two drivers have for running into each other, it was a wise call on Green's part.

The Formula Atlantic series will also be racing at Laguna, and local driver

T.J. Bell of Sparks will be there. Bell finished 11th in his last outing, at

Road America, after switching to his backup car due to a practice crash.

In drag racing, the latest buzz is Funny Car Champion John Force's plan to

field a Top Fuel dragster on the NHRA Winston series circuit, possibly as

early as 2001. Force is in the final negotiation stage with long time sponsor

Castrol for the car, which will be driven by a woman.

The never-reticent

Force refused to name prospective drivers, then blurted that he would " love

to have Shirley (Muldowney) driving the car, but we are a long way from

anything like that happening." Muldowney's reaction? "I'd pay to see that

myself," she said.

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