ESPN's Andy Petree answers your questions

Former championship crew chief and current ESPN analyst Andy Petree answers your questions about manufacturers, steering the old and new cars and more in our mailbag.

Updated: August 24, 2008, 6:48 PM ET
ESPN.com

NASCAR Icons readers filled the mailbag with questions for ESPN analyst Andy Petree and he responded to some of the best ones below.

Andy Petree
Phil Cavali/ESPNAndy Petree says the new car isn't as hard to handle as the ones in the 1980s, but it is more difficult than the most recent Cup cars.
Petree is a former crew chief, driver and crew member on NASCAR teams, most notably as Dale Earnhardt's crew chief with Richard Childress Racing for back-to-back Cup titles in 1993 and 1994.

Petree, who joined ESPN in 2007, also owned Andy Petree Racing and he worked with such drivers as Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace, Joe Nemechek, the late Bobby Hamilton and Greg Biffle.

Here are your questions and Petree' answers:

Recently, I was watching old race footage [mid-1980s, I think] from Talladega. It had in-car footage and it showed Buddy Baker driving the car. On the straightaway, not just the corners, he was sawing the wheel back and forth. It was almost like he was driving on ice.

It seemed like the driver had to work the wheel more back then than they do now, even with the COT. Which leads me to my question: Were the cars harder to handle back in the '80s than they were through the '90s and up to the COT?
Chris
Wellsboro, Pa.

Petree:
Yeah, absolutely they were. Those cars back then were basically stock cars -- they were modified obviously for racing -- but there were so many stock components on the chassis and the steering and all that. And these guys had steering boxes that were very high ratio. Because the cars were so hard to steer they had to put like 20 to 24:1 steering boxes on them to be able to actually have enough leverage. They didn't have power steering in those days. So, yeah, the cars were extremely hard to drive and those were real men that drove them, I'll tell you that. Buddy Baker was one of them.

But you had to move the wheel a lot to be able to make the front wheels turn. Today we run steering ratios from basically 14:1 down to even 10:1. So you can see how much more responsive the wheels are to the steering inputs today. That being said, when we went to this new car it's a lot harder to drive than the old car. It has less downforce and it just has a lot of the same type of characteristics as the old footage Chris is talking about.

Relatively speaking they're still easier to drive, but if you look at in-car footage today you'll see a lot of these guys who are steering that car a lot more than they were a year or two ago. That's one thing that NASCAR wanted to do, to try to take these cars back a little bit as far as the technology side and to put it more in the driver's hands. And they've done exactly that. Unfortunately only a handful of guys can really do it well.

Why was Carl Edwards allowed to throw an ice bag out his window without penalty? Robby Gordon threw a glove out his window a couple of years back and if I remember correctly, he was penalized.
Tanya Tovey,
Hendersonville, N.C.

Petree:
I think it has a lot to do with intent. And if you look at the position that Edwards was in when it happened I don't think he was trying to get a caution. It didn't look to me like he was. He actually pulled down low [he was going down on the backstretch] way out of the groove, threw it out the window and pulled back up in line. So he didn't throw it in the racing groove. It didn't look like he needed a caution.

These guys are constantly getting fed things from their crew on pit stops -- like a water bottle -- and you'll see these coming out, especially after a caution, you'll see a lot of water bottles that kind of litter the race track, and the guys pick them up. And it's not a problem. It's not creating a hazard.

I'm not exactly sure why Carl threw that ice bag out. I think he was maybe finished with it. If they leave those ice bags in the car, and they get in a certain place that water will start boiling if it happens to fall on the floor. If he throws it over in the right side of the car, what would happen is that water would start boiling and create steam and actually make it hotter inside. I'm speculating here, but that's what I saw with Carl.

A few years back, the Robby Gordon incident in particular, you know when you take your glove off and throw it out the window there's some obvious intent there. I mean there's no good reason to be doing that.

What makes the various cars a Toyota, Dodge or a Chevy? The bodies are all the same per NASCAR's specs. Is it the engines, and if it is do the car companies make them or have them made?
George Zebold
Coconut Creek, Fla.

Petree:
That's a good, good question. And I'm surprised more fans haven't really talked about this because the new car is really not a Dodge or a Ford or a Toyota, it's really a NASCAR vehicle. And they do allow the carmakers to brand them. They do have a little different shape on some of the panels, the nose and tail come to mind. They all still have to fit that grid template, the same exact template all cars have to fit in. Now, they let them work within a few parameters to give them some character, give them some identity to make them look more like a Camry or an Impala or whatever.

The engine is probably the biggest thing that distinguishes the cars. Each maker does have a very distinct engine, and it's definitely different than the others. Toyota had to create a push-rod engine to be able to compete in the series because they didn't have one when they started. The U.S. carmakers, the Dodges, Fords, the Chevys, all had push-rod engines forever, but their racing engine -- the one that they race in the series, and that's Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, all of them -- are purpose-built racing engines, just like Toyota's.

So these guys, through the manufacturers' R&D they come up with, cast all the blocks, the cylinder heads and in some cases the manifolds. And they are definitely right out of the factory. So that's probably the biggest area that distinguish the cars.

Why is one roof flap straight across the roof of the car and the other one at a slight angle?
Mike,
Milwaukee

Petree:
Another great question. The roof flaps were developed quite a few years ago to keep the cars from getting airborne when they spin [nine times out of 10 they will spin to the left or in other words counterclockwise because of the way the tracks are shaped]. When that happens the first part of the car that really gets a lot of lift is the corner of the roof, the right rear corner when you start presenting that thing to the wind, head-on into the wind. That's why that right side roof flap is angled, so it will deploy quicker. It will actually activate quicker in that rotation and then start acting on the car to start putting it back down on the ground before it gets completely backwards. In other words, I'm guessing, it's a 90-degree angle basically that thing will deploy when the car comes 90 degrees to the air.

And they're just very effective. That original design is still in place today and works very well.

And then once the car gets completely backwards the other one deploys, so that doubles the effect.

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