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NASCAR toys with Dodge, Taurus but leaves Pontiac untouched

After Dodge domination of the last Winston Cup race, NASCAR has tinkered with the front ends of the Intrepids and the Ford Taurus to try to even the competition.

The move does nothing to help the Pontiacs, the chief complainers last weekend in Homestead, where drivers and crew chiefs argued at length over an alleged Dodge advantage.

The complaining started after Intrepid drivers earned five of the top seven starting spots, then increased when five of the Dodge teams finished in the top 10 in a race won by Intrepid driver Bill Elliott.

NASCAR responded Tuesday with a technical bulletin that called for the Dodges to shave 1 inch off their front air dams, the area below the bumper. That pulled back from the 2-inch kickout the manufacturer was given in August to help improve front-end downforce.

The bulletin also allowed the Fords to add one-half inch on their air dam to improve its downforce. Pontiac was left unchanged and manufacturer representatives complained Wednesday about their aerodynamic disadvantage.

Downforce keeps the car tightly on the track, preventing the car from swerving, especially in the corners.

"We are glad to see that NASCAR has taken action on limiting the Dodge advantage, but it still remains unclear why NASCAR would not equalize the entire field," Doug Duchardt, NASCAR group manager for GM Racing, said Wednesday.

Duchardt noted that Ford swept the top four spots two weeks ago at a race in Phoenix. Chevrolet has wrapped up the manufacturer's title with 15 victories this season and Dodge has won all four of its races since NASCAR gave it help in August.

Pontiac also has four wins this season, but none since Tony Stewart's August victory at Bristol Motor Speedway, a short track where downforce is not an issue.

Bobby Labonte, Stewart's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, has the only Pontiac victory of the season on a high-speed track. Labonte, last year's Winston Cup champion, won in July at Pocono Raceway, one of the tracks where downforce through the turns is critical.

"We know that Joe Gibbs Racing fields two championship-caliber teams and is capable of winning and dominating races," Duchardt said. "Unfortunately, NASCAR does not appear to be concerned with providing a level playing field for them or any of the other Pontiac Grand Prix teams."

Labonte has one win this season. Stewart has the other three for Pontiac.

James Ince, crew chief for Pontiac driver Johnny Benson, also was disappointed that his car did not get any help from NASCAR.

"Pontiac is a very disadvantaged race car and that's because of the way the rules are," Ince said. "You can't knock the Dodge guys for having good cars because they have worked hard to go and do that, but the rules are so beneficial to them."

FRENTZEN OFFER: Heinz-Harald Frentzen received an offer to drive for the Arrows Formula One team next season, his manager, Monte Field, said.

Arrows spokeswoman Lindsay Morle said the team hasn't decided who will partner Jos Verstappen. Frentzen, 34, third in the 1999 driving championship, joined the Prost team for the last five races this season after being fired by Jordan.

Although Frentzen would like to stay with Prost, the French team is struggling to raise funds to compete next year, Field said. Team owner Alain Prost said he needs a major sponsor to bring in at least $20-million.

"Heinz has built up a bond with Prost but we're aware they are having difficulties," Field said. "We're weighing up the options."

Arrows was last in the constructors championship in 2001 after collecting one point from 17 races. Dutchman Verstappen, 29, earned the team's point at May's Austrian Grand Prix.

Arrows' other driver last season was 23-year-old Brazilian Enrique Bernoldi, whose contract is being reviewed, Morle said.

BUSCH RIDE: Pushing forward despite the lack of primary sponsorship, AP Performance Racing will field a NASCAR Busch series team for Tim Sauter in 2002 and 2003.

Sauter won the 1999 American Speed Association championship for APPR, and brother Johnny took the 2001 title for the Canadian team.