KINGSPORT — The haves and the have-nots in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model division at Kingsport Speedway have been easy to identify so far this season.
Those with crate engines — Ford crate motors in particular — have been piling up victories, and those with built engines have been left toiling in their wake. That dilemma has led track officials to tinker with the rules once again this week in an attempt to even the playing field in the Late Model division, the showcase class at the concrete short track.
Track general manager Karen Tunnell said an earlier adjustment to the rules package, which the track implemented about a month ago, was designed to speed up the cars that couldn't keep up with the superior horsepower being churned out by the Ford crates. When that failed, track officials made the decision to alter the rules package in an effort to slow down the Ford motors.
"We made some changes around a month or so ago, and we actually went backward," Tunnell said prior to Friday night's racing program. "Instead of trying to speed our built engines up, we've slowed our Ford crates down, which is what I really wish we'd done to start with, but it's a learning process.
"Some of the Ford guys are not really happy with that, but we have to do the best we can to make the competition level equal."
Drivers with Ford crate engines in their cars were required to add a rev-limiter chip to their engines, remove the spacer under the carburetor and add some weight to the right side of the car. Chevy crate engines will also be outfitted with a rev limiter from here on out, but the move was clearly made with the dominant Ford motors in mind.
The rules changes will apply both in Kingsport and at Lonesome Pine Raceway.
"It's been tough to try to equal this thing out," Tunnell said. "The way I'm looking at it right now, Chevrolet needs to do its homework because right now the Ford Racing program, they've got it going."
Just as Tunnell suspected, the Late Model drivers with Ford crate motors in their machines were feeling a bit irritated as they unloaded their cars in preparation for Friday night's 60-lap feature. Most understood the need to create a good show for the fans, but the fact that the rules change announced on Tuesday went into effect on three days later left many teams scrambling to get their cars ready.
"They're going to change something if you've got one certain person or one certain motor winning races, I guess," said points leader Kres VanDyke, who has won three races in Kingsport with Ford horsepower. "You never like it when it's trying to slow you down, but I understand the reason why — to keep everybody happy.
"You've go to have cars here every weekend and the fans are going to like it better. Hopefully it will make the races closer, make it a lot better for the fans. That's the biggest thing."
Chad Finchum, the reigning track champion, also has three wins under his belt thanks to a Ford crate. The Knoxville driver expects to lose some of his speed off the corners, but said his team will find a way to adapt.
"We're still running good times. We're still happy with the car," Finchum said. "But it's frustrating because we get the car working and we start winning with it, and then they change something. Then it takes us a couple weeks to dial it back in."
Finchum noted that the frequent midseason rule changes were taxing his team, a concern Zeke Shell echoed.
"It's running people off," Shell said. "This track is going to close itself down if somebody doesn't take control and say, 'Look, we're following the rulebook' and just go with the rulebook."
But Shell also admitted that he changed to a Ford crate engine from a Chevy built engine because the competitive advantage was undeniable.
"I'm running a Ford crate, and I'm running a Ford crate because they win," Shell said. "I ran a Chevy built and it doesn't matter what you've got, you won't beat them."
Tunnell said Ford crate engines have taken over, and that is exactly why something had to be done now instead of waiting until the end of the season.
"Change is hard for everybody, but we want different winners," she said. "These guys want to win every week, but we want different winners. It's good for the track.
"I think that (these changes are) going to help us. I'm really excited to see if this is a positive step in the right direction."