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NASCAR does about-face

Oops.

That's essentially what NASCAR said this week when it took away the aerodynamic change it gave the Winston Cup Fords barely two weeks ago.

That's right, after only one race _ and consecutive Ford victories _ NASCAR reneged on the eighth-inch it allowed Ford teams to lower their front air dams for the March 9 race at Atlanta.

But wait, there's more. After running one Ford, one Chevrolet and one Pontiac through its annual wind-tunnel tests, NASCAR also is requiring Fords to lower the rear spoiler by a quarter-inch, starting with Sunday's TranSouth 400 at Darlington Raceway.

The latest changes were announced after Dale Jarrett overpowered the field in a Thunderbird during the Primestar 500 at Atlanta. The first two races of the season were won by Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

NASCAR impounded three cars after Atlanta, including Jarrett's Ford, the Monte Carlo of defending series champion Terry Labonte, and the Pontiac Grand Prix of Morgan Shepherd, who was third. Those cars were run through the Lockheed wind tunnel last week in Marietta, Ga.

Robert Yates, owner of Jarrett's car, said he didn't understand the quick switch, "but I guess we'll live with it until they make another change. They picked the best-downforce Ford and the worst-downforce Chevrolet, and then they made a change."

Yates was upset that NASCAR did not test Gordon's Chevy.

The General Motors teams, which were irate about the previous rule change, are a little happier now, especially knowing that Fords have led 1,057 of the 1,321 laps run this season. Chevrolets have led 253 laps and Pontiacs just 11.

Chevy owner-driver Darrell Waltrip's unique spin on the situation: "They've still got a gun and we've got a knife. We're still a half-inch off. It's not too late. It's just too little."

FOURPEAT?: Gordon will try to become the first driver to win four straight Winston Cup races at Darlington Raceway in Sunday's TranSouth 400 _ thereby taming the track "too tough to tame."

Gordon won both Darlington races last year, as well as the 1995 fall race, joining Dale Earnhardt as the only drivers to win three straight.

Darlington, though, has been a feast or famine track for Gordon. Before the wins, Gordon had finished sixth, 22nd, 24th, 31st and 32nd in his other starts.

CHASING PEARSON: Earnhardt, who has now gone a full year without a victory, will try to match David Pearson's record of 10 Darlington wins. No one else is close to those two, with Waltrip, Bill Elliott, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison tied for third on the list with five wins each.

"When you add up those wins and realize that we're only one win shy of David Pearson's record, that's tremendous," said Earnhardt, who finally got his first top 10 of the season two weeks ago with an eighth.

NOT SO FRAGILE: Steve Grissom is eager to get back to racing two weeks after a fiery crash at Atlanta that shredded his No.41 Chevrolet but left him with nothing more than a sore ankle.

"I didn't know what everybody was making such a big deal about because I was fine," said Grissom, whose car spun, dented a retaining wall, then flipped and sent the gas tank flying before landing on its roof.

"But I watched the tape. I've seen a lot of torn up race cars before. That one was right up there amongst the worst. I would like to hurry up and get back racing and get it behind me, if it'll ever get behind me."

STARTING OVER: Reconstruction of the track at Homestead Motorsports Complex began Monday with demolition of the existing turns. The new configuration will eliminate the short chutes between the turns and convert the existing quad-oval into a constant-radius oval.

Including recent additional track improvements, the $8-million reconfiguration will bring Miami Motorsports' investment in the facility to about $30-million.

AL FOR ONE: All three Al Unsers _ Senior, Junior and Al Jr.'s son, Al _ will be on Tuesday's episode of ABC's Home Improvement, where their visit to the set of Tool Time causes some confusion. Can't imagine how.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report. Joanne Korth can be reached by e-mail at korthsptimes.com.

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