"The only way we could create the type of drag we get on the trucks would be to have the cars look like trucks," says Nelson. "We know how much horsepower the engines create and we know the aero numbers. We also recognize that much of the aero drag is because a truck's rear window stands straight up. We could do all that to a Nextel Cup car, but it would end up looking like a Craftsman truck."

Teams already build special bodies for short tracks, intermediate tracks, superspeedways, and road courses. They all have to match NASCAR's templates.

NASCAR insiders figure that with today's sleek bodies, an unrestricted car could hit 225 mph or better at Talladega. Rusty Wallace, in fact, recently hit 228 mph at Talladega while running an unrestricted engine.

NASCAR already controls speed by legislating spoiler heights and angles, air dam clearance, and enough body templates to make a fabricator dizzy. So, why not demand a snub-nosed body for the big tracks? At Daytona and Talledega, how about requiring a body configuration closer to those of current street cars? By changing the body profile, the cars would generate more aerodynamic drag and automatically go slower down the long straightaways.

One aerodynamic expert who has worked with NASCAR, Trans-Am, NHRA, and Indy Car teams has suggested mandating larger, more upright rear spoilers to create the aero drag needed to slow cars. It will require a completely different approach to shocks, springs, and swaybars, but he feels that speeds can be reduced and traction increased at the same time.

Maybe then NASCAR can give them back a bit of horsepower.

Top speeds at Atlanta, California, and Texas are essentially the same as what Nextel Cup cars run at Daytona and Talladega. What about concerns with speeds at those tracks?

"In spite of what the media says, we've never really had a target speed for our Cup cars," Nelson says. "It isn't a raw number we are looking at, and whatever the speed we are comfortable at is different for each track."

That said, the one thing that gets NASCAR excited is a car approaching 200 mph. Anytime a driver nears that double century mark, the rule books come out for a revision.

"I don't know that there's a definition of what's too fast," says NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter. "But we sort of feel like 200 mph is uncharted territory."

Talladega was designed for cars averaging about 175 mph. But in 1987, the year Allison's car became airborne and the year before the plates were required, Bill Elliott set a Talladega qualifying record of 212.809 mph. Nelson was crewchief for Geoffrey Bodine.

"I left there thinking that next year we could come back and maybe hit 215," Nelson says. But next year NASCAR handed him a restrictor plate and the speeds dropped. Is it any wonder he hates them?

Nelson says that at Daytona and Talladega, the cars reach their top speeds while still going down the front straight. At tracks such as Texas, drivers hit their terminal velocity just as the cars enter the banked corners, where the forces of running on the banking propel the cars down onto the track, which increases the loads on the tires and pushes the cars down onto the pavement. "The cars are just more stable there," he says.

The other thing to consider is the radius of the corners. Daytona and Talledega have long radius corners where drivers simply don't have to lift to get around them. "At Atlanta, the corners are tight enough that you couldn't take them flat out," Nelson says.

One of the changes-though it will be subtle-is the addition of the SAFER soft walls at both superspeedways. "The barriers will narrow the tracks," he says. "It won't be a big difference, but it will mean the outside radius has changed. It is narrower now. Those drivers used to running right up against the wall will realize it is a lot closer now and will have to change how they go trough the corners."

The faster the car, the more the effect the change will have. Tracks change all the time. The surface is ground smooth or repaved. The front straight becomes the back straight. The configuration at Miami/Homestead has been radically changed over and over again to make the racing better, until the owners finally came up with last year's design du jour with steep banking.

What would it take to change Daytona or Talladega? Money and desire. NASCAR has plenty of one, but perhaps little of the other.