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Earnhardt 'likes the look' of 2000 Monte Carlo
'99 News
Dave Rodman

Dale Earnhardt was one of more than a dozen drivers who tested the new 2000 Monte Carlo this week at Talladega.

Talladega, Ala. (Oct. 19, 1999)
Seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt might not be too crazy about the appearance of the 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo race car, but there's no question the winner of Sunday's Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway likes the look of the piece when he considers its competitive potential.

"When it's up front, it'll look real racy," Earnhardt said at the "World's Fastest Speedway" Tuesday, wearing his knowing little boyish grin. "It's got that little funky wave in the trunk back there like the Pontiacs do. That sort of resembles the Pontiac, which I ain't crazy about.

"I don't want to be like anybody. I want to be different, but it's still a good race car. We tested at St. Louis (Gateway International Raceway). It's tough to test on a track where you've never been before, but it was fine. We ran pretty good."

Earnhardt was one of more than a dozen drivers who participated in a two-day test of the new car earlier this week at the 2.66-mile Talladega trioval. Almost to a man, they agreed that the car would be very good when it had been developed, considering that it isn't too far off now -- even though its final specs have yet to be determined. The car is certainly a departure, in the visual department especially, from the current model that has been Chevrolet's staple since 1994.

Earnhardt's son, defending NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division champion Dale Earnhardt Jr., doesn't have much NASCAR Winston Cup Series experience to erase when he gets into the new car. He will have only five starts in NASCAR's premier series when he kicks off his Raybestos Rookie of the Year campaign next February.

"It drives like the old car," said Earnhardt Jr., who will drive the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet in one more race this season, the season ending NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "A whole lot won't change, but I never got a lot of time in any Winston Cup car, so it's fine with me.

"I think the car will look good once it gets paint on it. There's a lot of new body curves and lines in it. I'm sure we'll mold and change it and things will happen. Every time somebody comes out with something, the next guy is going to try to come out with something even better. It's going to continue to escalate. This is early to be making judgment on it, but my car drives good. I'm comfortable in it, but I've got a lot of things to learn and try."

He could have spoken for any number of the teams that were present, but his 2000 teammate, Pennzoil Chevrolet driver Steve Park, presented a little different twist on the subject of developing a new car.

"For a new driver and a new team like us, we're just starting to get our program in place, and we're just starting to run good," said Park, who is riding a stretch of seven straight top-16 runs, and 12 out of 13 top-20 finishes. "We're starting to get our cars figured out aerodynamically and now we've got a new car coming out.

"I think it's good from a standpoint that you need to go forward in development to keep up with the Joneses. We've got a whole stable of cars that are just starting to work for us, and now we've got to go to a whole new body style.

"It might be a little bit of a setback in the beginning, but that's why we're working on them so early, to make sure that we can get it figured out before we need to race it next year."

Park agreed the car had a completely different look to it.

"Right now, the car just looks different," he said. "We're trying to find the right balance. We've worked so hard to get that other Monte Carlo balanced and to make it a good race car. Being optimistic, we knew we'd come in with a little balance problem.

"This car has a fresh new look. The rear windows are different. The deck lid is different. The hood configuration is the same, but it has a little bit of a different nose panel on it. You'll see a big difference with the rear spoiler and the way the back of the car looks more so than the front. It's got a different greenhouse on it, different grooves and stuff. We're just hoping this car can be as competitive as our original Monte Carlo. It's just going to be a matter of time until we see that.

"Remember what the Pontiac looked like when they first came out? Everybody looked at them and said 'man those things will never work.' It took them a little while to get them to work. Now they're a good car and a car to beat week in and week out. Just because it looks a little different doesn't mean that it's bad."

GM Raceshop engineer Terry Laise said the car's look was intentional on Chevrolet's part, and that the reaction to it has been mostly positive and definitely emphatic.

"The big change in the look is that it looks like a 2000 Monte Carlo and not a '95 Monte Carlo," Laise said. "The rear end is shaped very much that way. The headlight is shaped very much like the 2000 Monte Carlo. The window outlines are made to be the same as the 2000. We try to take the design cues that give the look of the car and make it look like the model we're racing.

"It's a totally new body. There's nothing the same as the current Monte Carlo. One of the goals of the 2000 Monte Carlo is to look very different than current cars. We want to get away from this 'every car looks the same' kind of thing. The Monte Carlo certainly accomplishes it.

"Focusing on the production car, I drove one to Charlotte and back and I've never experienced a car, in many, many years, where people driving beside me on the highway pointed their fingers and gave me a thumbs up or thumbs down. People asked me to roll down my windows at traffic lights because they wanted to talk about the car. I think almost every time I gassed it up, I ended up talking to somebody about it. It's a very distinctly different looking type of car, and hopefully we've retained a lot of that look for the race car. I think we have."

"We kind of like the way it looks," Park said, taking up the role of Chevrolet teams' spokesperson. "It's got a little bit of a futuristic look about it going into the year 2000. That's something Chevrolet was looking to do. Now we've just got to make it a car that likes to park in Victory Lane."