NASCAR takes chicane out of Mexico City straight

3/4/2007 - NASCAR

MEXICO CITY -- Busch Series drivers were more afraid to maneuver through the chicane at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course a year ago than they were to drink the local water.

"I didn't mind the chicane too much. There was just that one trip to the hospital. Other than that, it was just fine."
-- Carl Edwards

Jamie McMurray called it a death trap. Denny Hamlin said it wreaked havoc. Carl Edwards said it was like driving through a single garage door at a hundred miles per hour.

NASCAR officials listened.

The chicane, a winding section on the front straightaway designed to slow cars down before entering Turn 1, is gone.

"After two years we feel like the drivers have had enough experience at this track so the chicane wasn't needed," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition.

Drivers for the most part were elated.

"I didn't mind the chicane too much," Edwards said with a smile Friday. "There was just that one trip to the hospital. Other than that, it was just fine.

"But I think [racing] will be better without it."

Edwards lost control in the chicane during a 2005 practice and hit the wall so hard that he had to be taken to the hospital.

"It was pretty obvious that was a Band-Aid for that long front straightaway," said Edwards, who finished third in the race that year.

The chicane was designed so drivers would decelerate by about 15 mph so speeds wouldn't approach 200 mph heading into the first turn.

Drivers learned quickly that they could get through the chicane barely lifting off the accelerator, but if they didn't hit it just right -- and Edwards didn't in '05 -- they lost control.

"Taking it out is huge," said former Nextel Cup champion Rusty Wallace, who drove in this race in 2005 before becoming an ESPN analyst. "There's going to be a lot of speed [going into the turn], between 180 and 200 mph.

"It's the longest straightaway in NASCAR when it comes to road course racing. You could land a 747 on it, but there's a lot of runoff here with the kitty litter stuff to get them slowed down if they go off track."

There was no run-off area in the chicane, which made drivers nervous.

"I thought it was pretty dangerous," Todd Kluever said. "Carl got the best experience of anybody in '05 when he hit terrible hard there. Last year somebody got on the roof during qualifying. I'm glad to see it gone."

So is Shane Huffman, whose only experience with the chicane came on the home computer of team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. earlier this week.

"It could be dangerous because you're carrying a lot of speed," Huffman said. "On the computer I was barely having to lift. If you hit the curb it was just enough to get the car out of shape.

"I would say it's definitely a benefit being gone. Plus, it's two less turns I've got to worry about."

Wallace said the chicane was an advantage for road course specialists

"The chicane also caused a lot of wrecks," he said. "But taking it out is really going to take away the advantage for the top road racers."

Edwards expects more passing on a 2.5-mile course where there are few opportunities to pass.

"You don't have to get a great run off that last corner," he said. "You've got a whole straightway. I think you'll see some great blocking, too."

Regan Smith said you'll see more cars going four- and five-wide toward the first turn instead of single-file as the chicane promoted. Brent Sherman said that could promote another set of problems.

"Guys are going to try to go in [to Turn 1] too deep and that's where you get in trouble," he said. "But you gotta do what you gotta do. You dive bomb there and hope you don't go straight through the corner."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.