Roof flap spacers at center of weighty issue

NASCAR.com

Larry McReynolds has a bucket in his closet, and he tosses his loose change into it at the end of every day. When he first started, he may have had a few dollars worth of nickels, dimes and quarters. Now?

"I guarantee you there's over a thousand dollars worth of change in that bucket," the former crew chief said. "It all adds up."

As it does with weight in race cars, a potential reason why 16 Sprint Cup Series teams and 15 entries on the Nationwide Series were busted by NASCAR for use of illegal roof flap spacers last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. Although it might not seem like much, even a part that small could be targeted by crew chiefs as a area where they might be able to reduce some weight on the vehicle.

NASCAR is examining the issue, and penalties could be issued this week. According to McReynolds, the four spacers used in the roof flaps -- two in the right flap, and two in the left -- have more to do with how the apparatus attaches to the roof rather than how the safety mechanisms deploy when the car spins backward. But particularly on the Sprint Cup side, where teams are now building Generation-6 cars that are 150 pounds lighter than their predecessors, crew chiefs will try to save weight wherever they can.

McReynolds, now a television analyst for SPEED, FOX and TNT, said he wouldn't completely rule out that some teams might have been searching for an aerodynamic advantage -- during his days as a crew chief, he admitted, he found in the wind tunnel that slight manipulations of a roof flap could increase downforce or drag. But this spate of violations, he believes, likely has more to do with weight.

"No longer are teams going to find something on these race cars that are five or 10 or 15 pounds that you're going to be able to take off it and save that much weight. It just doesn't exist anymore. It's ounces and in some cases, grams," said McReynolds, who won Daytona 500 titles with Davey Allison and Dale Earnhardt.

"Jimmy Fennig put it best," he added, referring to Carl Edwards' crew chief. "I sat and talked to Jimmy Fennig at Daytona on Friday, and he said, 'Larry, especially with this new car where they reduced the overall weight requirement, we fight and scrap for every ounce of weight that we can. It's to the point where everything we buy to put on this race car, when it comes out of the box -- it doesn't matter whether it has something to do with the engine, has something to do with the rear end, has something to do with the fuel cell, it doesn't matter. When it comes out of the box, the first thing we do is start looking at it, and saying, how can we make it lighter but not hurt the durability of it?'

"Pennies make dollars, grams and ounces make pounds," McReynolds continued. "That's why Jimmy Fennig told me, 'We work nonstop trying to reduce the weight of parts and pieces on our car so we can put the weight in the right area, which is down low.' He said, 'At the end of the day, we can cut a few ounces here, a few ounces here, a few ounces here. And when we sweep them all up in the dustbin when we're done, maybe we've reduced the weight by eight or 10 pounds.'"

Roof flaps -- technically known as "hinged air deflectors" -- come in a kit supplied to teams by a division of Roush Industries. Section 20-3.8-J of the Sprint Cup Rule Book specifies that they "must be NASCAR-approved and obtained only through NASCAR-approved sources." They also "must be installed as specified in the instruction sheet supplied with the hinged air deflector kit." The small, cylindrical spacers sit inside the cavity below the flap, helping to keep it in line with the roof.

"I'm truly convinced, if this is all about saving weight, that these spacers did not hurt the integrity of the roof flaps," McReynolds said. "But the bottom line is, the roof flap is a sacred area. It has been ever since we started running them in the early '90s. It comes in a kit, and per the NASCAR rule, you are not to deviate from anything on those flaps -- not the bolts, not the spacers, not the flaps, not the cavities, not the location. You are not to deviate from them whatsoever."

The 16 cars found in violation on the Sprint Cup side included all six built by Roush Fenway (those of Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., along with Trevor Bayne of Wood Brothers and Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose of Richard Petty Motorsports) as well as both Penske Racing entries (of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano), all three Joe Gibbs Racing vehicles (of Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin) and Michael Waltrip Racing cars (of Waltrip, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.)

In the Nationwide garage, the 15 violators included several affiliated with Sprint Cup teams, including the JGR entries of Kenseth, Busch and Brian Vickers, the Roush cars of Bayne and Travis Pastrana, and the Roush-built vehicle of Michael Annett at RPM. Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon, the Sprint Cup crew chiefs for Keselowski and Logano respectively, are on probation for illegal modifications found April 13 in the rear-end housings of their cars -- which in their case could magnify any penalties that may be issued.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, said last weekend that the roof flap spacers were "probably not something that was on a normal inspection routine," raising the possibility that the confiscated parts may have been in use prior to Daytona. The widespread nature of the infraction also makes it difficult to predict how NASCAR will react -- even if the root of the issue is a safety system to help keep race cars on the ground.

"When you have 31 teams show up with the same rule infraction, I think in their mind, they're doing some super soul-searching and investigating to make sure that they don't have a weak link on their inspection process, that they don't have a weak link in the rule book," said McReynolds. "They don't think they do. But it would be no different than if my three kids all got in trouble for the same thing. I would have to look at my wife and go, 'Were we not clear that they were not supposed to do that?'"

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