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2000 Monte Carlo gets Talladega shakedown
'99 News
Dave Rodman, NOL

Talladega, Ala. (Oct. 19, 1999)
Chevrolet's weapon of choice for 2000, a new version of the Monte Carlo that has won the last six NASCAR Winston Cup Series championships in the hands of Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt, got its first long track shakedown Monday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Gordon, the two-time defending series champion; Labonte; and seven-time titlist Earnhardt were among the drivers from 12 teams who rumbled around in a variety of Monte Carlos.

The test is scheduled to continue Tuesday at the 2.66-mile trioval, the site of Sunday's Winston 500, which was won by Earnhardt. The man who has won nine races at Talladega was upbeat about the new machine's possibilities.

The new Monte Carlo will make its debut at Speedweeks leading up to the 2000 Daytona 500 in February at Daytona International Speedway.

"It's got a lot of possibilities," said Earnhardt of his GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet. "I think it's going to be a good downforce car, and a good car in the draft. Our qualifying speeds may be a little slow from what we've seen with our other cars, but all new cars have been in history. We all work to understand what the car wants and what it likes and we'll go from there. I see a lot of potential."

Joe Nemechek posted the fastest NASCAR Winston Cup Series qualifying speed since 1990 last Friday at Talladega when he ran 198.331 mph in the BellSouth Monte Carlo from Team SABCO.

Nemechek's teammate, Sterling Marlin, represented that team at the test. Gordon, Labonte and 2000 teammate Jerry Nadeau were at Talladega for Hendrick Motorsports. Earnhardt was joined by Richard Childress Racing teammate Mike Skinner, while Earnhardt's own driver Steve Park was also on hand along with his 2000 teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Among others who took part were Bobby Hamilton, Kenny Wallace, Geoffrey Bodine and Andy Hillenburg, who drove Larry Hedrick's Chevrolet.

"It will go through many changes before it races at Daytona," said Earnhardt, who has participated in both of the cars' test sessions to date, at Talladega and Gateway International Raceway outside St. Louis. "We'll have a lot of test time with it on the track between now and Daytona, plus we'll probably work on some stuff to change the way we qualify.

"Basically, getting the time with the car and understanding the car will be the big thing for us. I think the racing in '99 was good on the restrictor-plate tracks. I don't think they should change anything as far as the racing goes, but I do think they're going to do something on qualifying."

"We're trying to see how the new Monte Carlo stacks up against the old Monte Carlo," said Terry Laise, GM Raceshop engineer for the NASCAR Winston Cup program. "We're trying to do some on-track development of the aerodynamics of the package to make it a better race car. We have to do it here because you can probably do only about 80 percent of the development in the wind tunnel. There's a lot of things that can happen at the track only. We need to evaluate it on the track."

At Gateway, several teams tested current Monte Carlos side-by-side with the new cars. Laise said the comfort level in the Chevrolet camp at this stage is better than lukewarm.

"I'd say the baseline seems OK," Laise said. "It's not real far behind the current car. I don't see anybody jumping up and down for joy, and I don't see too many people ready to slash their wrists. Subjectively, we don't know exactly where we are.

"If we unloaded something that was lightning fast, we'd know we were in trouble. I don't see that. If we unloaded something that was two seconds off the pace, we might have a problem. I think we're about where we hoped we'd be, about where NASCAR wants us to be. They wanted us to come out about equal to the current car, and with development, we might be able to get there."

"We're running some of the same stuff we ran in our other car this weekend and right now we're probably about seven tenths off," Park said of his runs in the Pennzoil Chevrolet. "It's a new car, so we were kind of expecting that. We've got two speedway 2000 Monte Carlos ready, and we've got almost three intermediate cars ready.

"I tested at Gateway in Earnhardt's car, but this is a completely different feel. That current Monte Carlo is going to be hard to beat. It's got five or six years of development in it. It's been a tried and true car. I think right now we're just fighting a little bit of the new car blues and working some of the bugs out of it. I don't think we could take a car right out of the box and beat a car that's had five or six years of development on it."

Laise said he doesn't expect that, and his entire camp is moving full speed ahead with its eyes wide open.

"You never know what's going to happen," Laise said. "NASCAR is monitoring what we're doing, and well they should. If the wind tunnel tests correlates well with the way the cars are coming along, we'll probably fall where they want us to, performance wise. Gateway didn't show anything that said the car was revolutionary or anything."