NASCAR

Ford stays downforce king; Dodge still struggles

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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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After the Las Vegas test, it's obvious that the same group that was fast last year is still fast. Ford was pretty stout last year, and I believe the 2006 Fusion is going to be pretty good.

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Vegas test

Daytona Week 2

Daytona Week 1

Las Vegas Speeds

  • Cup: Wed. | Tues. | Mon.
  • Daytona Speeds

  • Busch: Sun. | Sat. | Fri.
  • Cup Week 2: Wed. | Tues. | Mon.
  • Truck Sun. | Sat. | Fri.
  • Cup Week 1: Wed. | Tues. | Mon.

  • SPEED testing shows...

  • Feb. 1, 7 p.m. ET: Nextel Cup testing from Las Vegas
  • When Ford created the new Fusion, they didn't go crazy on either end of the car. It still looks like the old Ford Taurus. Like the Fusion, the new Monte Carlo has been created to be a better car, but Chevrolet didn't get carried away with what they did on either end of the car. It still has a lot of the look and feel of the old Monte Carlo. The Ford engine program continues to step up. Doug Yates, Robert Yates and all the people in the Roush-Yates engine group are tenacious about making more power. Their car this year is just as good if not better than the Taurus. They're all going to be forces to reckon with. Until something changes this year, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see as many if not more 2004 Intrepids racing as 2005 Chargers. When something looks a lot different, the question is, "Are you sure it's better?" Last year, there was a significant difference between the new Charger nose and the old Intrepid nose. Dodge's wind tunnel time and development showed the manufacturer that the Charger was going to be as good or better than the Intrepid. During the Daytona test, it was OK, but when they got to California and Las Vegas last year, Dodge said, "Uh oh, we're not as good as we thought we were." Dodge still has serious work to do this year, and Penske Racing was A-B'ing the Intrepid vs. the Charger at Vegas this week which is what they should do. It appears that Dodge is open-minded enough to let the teams compare its current car with a 2004 car. When I was with Richard Childress, and the 2000 Monte Carlo came out, we struggled at the first few downforce tracks. I asked Childress if we could break out a '99 Monte Carlo. He asked Chevrolet, and there was not no, but, "Heck no! We're not in the business of selling '99 Monte Carlos anymore. We're selling 2000 Monte Carlos." Fortunately, NASCAR finally gave us extra kickout on the front valance for a little more front downforce, and the 2000 Monte Carlo ended up being just fine.

    Intrepid vs. Charger

    Mitchell from Atlanta, Ga.: I noticed that Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch were driving Intrepids at Las Vegas, like the teams ran in '04 and like Newman and Kasey Kahne ran in the '05 Ford 400. Any idea why these cars are being used yet again, and can teams learn anything from the Intrepid to help the Charger? Larry McReynolds: Even though Kahne and Newman seemed a little bit better with the 2004 Intrepid at Homestead last year, Casey Mears was a spoiler. If it hadn't been for that last caution for a spring rubber laying on the apron, Mears wins the race with a Charger. I talked to Kurt Busch and he said that the Charger is like walking on a tightrope. If you hit the combination right on the head, you're in pretty good shape, but if you miss it ever so slightly, you're junk. Ryan Newman has proven that the Charger can cut a fast lap if you throw fresh tires on it and tighten it up. But when you have to open that nose and your car starts sliding around on older tires, the Charger gets in trouble compared to the other makes. A lot of teams are trying make the Charger work. Sometimes they do, and sometimes it takes too long to make it work. The Penske organization probably said that they are in the business of winning races, and they have to answer to sponsors. Whether it's a Charger, an Intrepid or a Magnum from the '70s, Penske will run whatever they have to run to improve their performance.
    Speed Mail Larry
    When you've got a significant aero-balance difference between the cars, it can be very hard to cross-breed information between the Intrepid and the Charger. But Penske is trying to learn all it can right now because with the new testing rules, the Las Vegas test was the last test at a Nextel Cup track until May. Teams will continue to test at Kentucky, especially as weather gets better, but as far as testing at a track with the current leased tire, Vegas was it until Richmond which won't tell teams what they need to know at a 1 1/2- to 2-mile racetrack. Remember, Kahne won Richmond a year ago with the new Charger. It's a slower speed, and downforce is important but not nearly as significant as it is at Vegas, Fontana and Atlanta. The next downforce test for these guys is at Lowe's Motor Speedway, and here's what's going to happen there. The track has been repaved, and it's going to have so much grip that everybody — no matter what he's driving — is going to be good. So Vegas was a critical test for everyone. The teams had better come out of there with some pretty solid information and direction because as Busch told me, he was testing for not only Las Vegas but Fontana, Atlanta and a lot of other racetracks. The No. 2 team has been testing once or twice a week all over the place from Kentucky to Greenville, S.C. to Lakeland, Fla., which is smart because it's essentially a new team. About the only thing that's the same over there is the color of the car, the sponsor and the number. New crew chief, driver and when I walked in their garage area for the Daytona test, there were a lot of new faces.


    FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds has more than 25 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, crew chief and broadcaster. He and his fellow Crew Chief Club members take you behind the wall at www.crewchiefclub.com.

    "How to Become a Winning Crew Chief" is on bookstore shelves, or you may order your own autographed copy from www.DWStore.com.

    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman

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