all about the engines. In Daytona it was all about the
restrictor plate engines, this week it was all about the
single engine, as NASCAR's new one-engine rule went into
effect. All teams had to practice, qualify and race using
the same engine this weekend at Rockingham.
The purpose of the rule is to cut the enormous costs a racing team has to spend in Winston Cup racing, and to allow the smaller, less funded teams to compete with some of the larger multi-car operations. By allowing only one engine, NASCAR is hoping to level the playing field a bit while at the same time lower costs for everyone.
In a sport where every penny counts, it's a welcome change.
"I like it. We spend a lot of money. It's not unnecessary money, but it's way too much money in the engine," said Bobby Hamilton, driver of the #55 Square D Chevrolet. " When you have a single car team like ours out there, you can use that money for more tests or for co-op's with another team and making your race program better instead
of just spending it on engine stuff to keep up with guys that are full-fledged engine developers."
"You've got guys like Yates and Hendricks who've got lease programs and stuff like that - it's tough for the bunch of us who do our own engines and ours only to keep up with the technology. When it comes back to that, I think it's going to equal everybody up more."
"It's a good thing for the car owners. It's going to save them a lot of money," said Mark Cronquist, engine builder for Joe Gibbs Racing. "And if you think about it - did qualifying motors make the show any better? No, not really. We spend a lot of money on them to basically pick a pit stall."
"I'm a big supporter of it. I think it's good," said Ken Schrader, driver of the #36 M&M Pontiac. "It doesn't make a difference whether we all put in the 'killer' lightweight stuff and we all go two tenths of a second faster. We all did it. We just spent a lot more money for nothing, so I think NASCAR did a really good thing with this."
"It's going to be a good deal. It's going to save the owners some money to start with, which is good," said Newt Moore, Schrader's crew chief. "We're having to squeeze sponsorships so hard to get the monies to get everything on a level playing field, so it's going to help us. It'll be a good move."
While the rule is supposed to cut costs, some point out the new rule may actually end up costing teams more money as they scramble to change their engine programs to adapt to the change.
"It's going to cost a lot of money up front because there are a lot of parts and pieces that have already been bought and placed in inventory that the teams are going to basically eat now," said Jeff Gordon, the 2002 Winston Cup champion. "Is it going to change the competition as to which teams are at the top? Is it going to help the guys in the back move to the top? Is it going to move the guys at the top further down? No. I don't
think it's going to change at all."
"It takes money to have a strong engine that can run all weekend long. The team that does a better job of research and development is the team that's going to come out on top."
"I don't know that it will save any money," said Tony Furr, crew chief for Jerry Nadeau. "It might cut down on the work at the racetrack, but I don't know that it'll save any money because you'll definitely have to start out with all new stuff the first of each week. Therefore, it may end up costing just a little bit more money"
"It's going to make it cheaper for some of the car owners in the future," Casey Atwood said. "I don't know if will be cheaper right away because they're going to have to spend a lot of time developing it. You're going to be running them all weekend through qualifying, you want to get the most out of it without blowing it up, it's going to cost a little more money to get it started but I think eventually It's going to be a little bit cheaper for them."
In the past, teams could use an engine to qualify and then remove it and replace it with a race engine. Most of the time, the qualifying engines were made to be as lightweight as possible, with parts designed to generate as much horsepower as possible, but at the same time be as lightweight as possible. A lighter engine, and a lighter car, meant more speed during qualifying.
The problem with that scenario is most qualifying engines were designed to run no more than a handful of laps, since their lightweight parts were not able to withstand the punishment of a 400-mile race. After qualifying, the team replaced the qualifying engine with a race engine, an engine made of heavier, more durable parts.
Now, all teams will only be allowed one engine. If the engine fails after a team has qualified, they may change engines but would have to start in the rear of the field. Races may now come down to who has the most reliable engines.
"Reliability is the biggest factor," said Jim Covey, GM Racing's Engine Development Manager. "Before this new rule, the teams had a pretty good idea of what components they could run and still last 500 miles. But now, they've got to qualify with it, practice with it, and race with it. That could add up to 700 miles."
"But it's not the continuous operation of running a race from start to finish that will be of
concern to the engine builders. It will be the all the starting and stopping during the race weekend. Before, qualifying engines gave them the opportunity to push the limit and they used them as development engines. Now, they won't have that luxury."
Crew chiefs and engine builders have been busy pacing the floor during the off-season, wondering how well they can adapt to the new rule.
"It's a new challenge for sure," said Doug Yates, engine builder for Robert Yates Racing. "What it really forces you to do is more bench testing or testing of the components at the shop. Whoever has the equipment to do that - to test the valve train and endurance test the engine - can actually figure the limits of the engine a little closer and then put that piece out on the track."
"It's really a balance between the qualifying engines of last year and the race engines of last year. Somewhere in between that is what you're going to end up with racing, so it's a real fine line and it's going be real interesting."
"The financial side is a big part of it," said Randy Dorton, engine builder for Hendrick Motorsports. "That's one thing that teams are looking at because qualifying engines are very expensive. There's a lot of exotic things that have developed for them. When you go into a weekend where you're going to run one engine, that's still going to be a very expensive engine but its going put a lot of demand on it to run both two days of practice and the race on top of it. You've got to have a very good product when you leave the
shop and every piece has to be of that level because once it goes in the car, it is intended to run a whole weekend at a race."
The first two races to use this new rule are both 400-milers; the real test will be in the coming weeks, with 500-mile races at Atlanta and Bristol.
"My concern lies with the larger tracks like Atlanta, Michigan, Fontana and certainly Charlotte. Those tracks put a lot of miles on the engine and I'm not sure if we can make it all those miles," said Terry Elledge, engine builder for Bill Davis Racing. "We already have our Las Vegas engines about done and we won't change a lot about them either unless we find something after this weekend that needs to be improved. As for Atlanta, I am holding off on those engines until we see how things go the next few weeks."
"The fear of the unknowns has got me a little concerned. We'll just have to cross our fingers and hope for the best."
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