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Cup drivers test new Monte Carlo at Gateway
'99 News
David Green

David Green tests a new Monte Carlo.
David Green tests a new Monte Carlo. DILIP VISHWANAT/TSN

Madison, Ill. (Aug. 30, 1999)
Opinions were divided over the 2000 Monte Carlo among the nine Winston Cup drivers who began two days of shakedown test runs for the new car at Gateway International Raceway on Monday.

It's not that anybody voiced disappointment in the new car, although some in the Chevrolet camp are less than optimistic about what to expect from it; rather, the drivers' opinions varied regarding what was to be gained from the tests on the 1.25-mile oval.

"We're not going fast enough here to do much of an aero test with 'em," said Ken Schrader, a native of nearby Fenton, Mo., who drives for Andy Petree Racing. "It's all chassis stuff. It has nothing to do with the new body style."

Sterling Marlin, whose Team Sabco was one of three teams with old and new Monte Carlos at the track, said he couldn't tell much difference between the '99 and 2000 models. Jerry Nadeau, testing for the Hendrick Motorsports team, which will employ his services next year, preferred the new car, wasn't sure if the new body shape should get credit for that.

"The new Monte Carlo is real stable, real secure," Nadeau said. "I don't know if it's the body or just two different race cars."

It's much like any other in-season or between-season testing, according to seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt.

"We're really not doing anything to run faster," Earnhardt said. "You try to establish a baseline, then go through changes with other cars -- adjusting, searching, tuning."

Other drivers on hand for the test were Mike Skinner, Earnhardt's Richard Childress Racing teammate; Steve Park of Dale Earnhardt Inc.; Bobby Hamilton, Morgan/McClure Motorsports; Geoffrey Bodine, Joe Bessey Motorsports; and David Green, Larry Hedrick Motorsports.

"This is our first test" with a new Monte Carlo model, Bodine said. "It's a brand new car, underneath the new body and all. I'm really quite pleased with it. It's been consistent."

Bodine is one Winston Cup driver who has experience on the Gateway track, which is not on the Winston Cup schedule.

"We ran in the Busch Series race, but you can't compare the Busch car to a Winston Cup car," he said. "They don't have the downforce we do."

Bodine said his team had already made some progress with its new Monte Carlo.

"We've made some chassis adjustments, and we'll try some aero adjustments, with fenders and so forth. All within the rules, of course," he said. "The new car feels really great to me. Really stable. This car feels a lot better than the Busch car, but that's not a fair comparison."

Green also gave his new ride high marks.

"There's a lot to be gained (from the test)," the former Busch Series champion said. "The car really turned good. The front downforce was good."

The new Monte Carlo was originally scheduled to debut in competition in May, but NASCAR officials conducted extensive testing of prototypes of the car to ensure that it would not be superior to its competition, the Ford Taurus and Pontiac Grand Prix. The approval process took longer than expected, and Chevrolet officials decided to postpone the new race car's introduction until next season.

Skinner said the version of the car which finally obtained NASCAR approval won't be much better than the current Monte Carlo.

"The new car seems to be tighter getting down in the corners," Skinner said. "I don't see any big magic. I don't see any big difference. With the '99 Monte Carlo, we're qualifying pretty much on the level of the Pontiacs and the Tauruses. It seems like the long runs is where we need a little more total downforce, and we hope this car will give us that."

Two days of shakedown runs, the drivers agreed, won't give teams all the answers they're looking for in the new car, especially on a relatively flat track. Several drivers suggested that the new car, which has been tested at high-speed superspeedways and shorter, flat ovals, needs a shakedown at an intermediate, banked speedway such as Lowe's (formerly Charlotte) Motor Speedway.

At any rate, Skinner said, "It's gonna take some time to develop the car. The designers did a great job with the car, and then when NASCAR got through chopping it up, we were right back to the drawing board."

Drivers agreed that the Gateway track is a good one for the test.

"First time I've ever been here," said Marlin, a two-time Daytona 500 winner. "We'll probably test a lot of stuff here."

"It's a good place to test -- good grip," Nadeau said, noting that the asymetrical oval, with a tight, slower-speed Turns 1-2 and a more sweeping, faster Turns 3-4, presents more of a challenge. "If you're good in 1 and 2, you're gonna be loose in 3 and 4," he said.

The Chevy drivers were unanimous that Gateway would be a suitable track to be considered for a Winston Cup race date, although they noted that the track would need more grandstands (it presently seats about 80,000) and several said they wished the track had been built with identical corners rather than the irregular oval shape. Earnhardt said Cup teams would probably utilize overdrive transmissions and shift to a lower gear in the slower Turns 1-2.

"If they'd just widen out that end," Earnhardt said, nodding toward Turns 1-2. "But we'd adapt to it. They (NASCAR) assign the date, we go race."