Saturday, July 12, 2008

Horsepower in the Windy City

The pre-race programming for the Nationwide Series races has the recurring theme of Nationwide teams complaining about the alleged Toyota horsepower advantage. Previous dynamometer tests on the engines have shown that the Gibbs Nationwide engines produce about twenty-two more horsepower than does the team's engine with the lowest horsepower. Rusty Wallace whose team runs Chevy engines, wants NASCAR to restrict the Gibbs team so they can't build powerful engines, while the rest of the Chevy and Ford teams want their manufacturers to step up their engine development programs in the series. The Dodge teams, notably Evernham and Ganassi, have remained strangely quite about the issue, perhaps not wanting to publicize the fact that they have as much horsepower as Toyota, something alluded to by one of the Dodge drivers early in the season (I attributed the blurted out information to Ryan Newman, but it may have been Elliot Sadler who said that).

Chevy plans to introduce the RO-7 engine that they use in the Cup Series to the Nationwide Series in 2009, while Ford and Dodge currently have no new engine program to compete with the Toyota.

NASCAR has said they will look into the difference in horsepower and see if they have to take any action to even things up (Rusty wants to even things down, but "up" is what the rest of the teams are looking for). That could include larger openings in the spacer plates NASCAR uses in the Nationwide and Truck Series for the Chevy and Ford engines.

Anyway, after the race at Chicagoland Friday night, NASCAR confiscated engines from nine different teams to ship to their R&D lab in Charlotte for dynamometer testing. They will see if there is a need to do anything to help the teams with the lower horsepower engines become more competitive with the teams that get more output from their engines.

As far as the race itself went, it was a clean race with only three cautions for the entire 300 miles. There wasn't much racing to talk about, and Kyle Busch won in the JGR #18 car, making it his fifth win in the Nationwide Series this season. The margin of victory was by a little more than three seconds over second place Denny Hamlin, who was driving the #32 Toyota for Todd Braun Racing. During the last part of the race, Hamlin had the fastest car on the track but all he could do in twenty laps was to turn a nine second deficit into a three second deficit. Brad Keselowski, who was ill, did not wimp out and brought his car to a third place finish, the highest finish among the Nationwide regulars.

The #20 team experienced its first missed set-up of the season, fighting a tight condition all evening long. Tony Stewart was able to "trick the car" into making the turns by driving harder than usual into the corners, and ended up with a ninth place finish.

The race should serve to remind us that Chicagoland is a boring track, even with the conventional cars. Still, there is no telling what could happen with the Sprint Cup cars Saturday night until it happens.

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