DAYTONA, FL - JANUARY 19: Jeff Burton, driver of the #31 Cingular Chevrolet, sits in his car during Nascar Nextel Cup testing, on January 19, 2005 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Im
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Smaller spoilers and softer tires were supposed to be a big reason why 42 teams tested last week at Las Vegas and California. But no reason was more important than the competitive nature of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series itself.
Many teams said they made a week-long trip the Pacific Time Zone because they were afraid to be left out. Racing does that to people, where keeping up with the competition doesn't always involve horsepower.
"The tests in Vegas and California, every team will be at, so how important are they? I mean it would be terrible if one of us missed those tests, but if nobody ran them, then it wouldn't be important because everybody has the same thing to adapt to and all the teams are geared up for adapting change," Mark Martin said.
"You can't afford to let someone get the jump on you because, in this business, that's what everybody is trying to do in the first place."
NASCAR allows 14 days of testing five two-day tests and four single-day sessions during the season, but the sanctioning body adds some twists to that formula. Teams are allowed to test for three days in preparation for the Daytona 500 but only charged for two. In fact, they are charged for that test whether they show up or not.
Some drivers hate testing at Daytona because it requires very little skill behind the wheel. Drivers can push the gas pedal to the floor and ride around the bottom groove throughout the test. That's why Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick took the week off.
"From a driver's perspective, Daytona testing is kind of like watching paint dry," Stewart said.
Also, teams are charged for one two-day session even after working two days at Las Vegas and two more days at California. That's another reason why so many teams made the cross-country trek.
"The reason to go is because it is a two-for-one," said Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch. "We have a shorter spoiler. We're going to have a looser race car. That's why there is such a demand to go to California and Las Vegas because of how different, I believe, the cars are going to drive."
The shorter spoiler across the trunk deck will reduce the amount of downforce on the rear wheels. That, in turn, will reduce the amount of lift on the front wheels.
NASCAR has battled with a condition known as "aero-push" for a couple years. That's when the front wheels lose traction in the turns, much like a car trying to turn on ice. While the smaller spoiler should help with front-tire grip, it will come at the expense of rear-wheel traction. That will create a different condition known as being "loose" like a car fishtailing on a dirt road.
Also, the softer tires are supposed to keep teams from riding along the bottom groove all day, creating an afternoon of follow the leader. The softer tires will wear out, forcing teams to find speed in the middle or outside grooves.
When the cars tested at Daytona, NASCAR used its timing and scoring system that ranked the speeds. That system wasn't used at Las Vegas and California, so nobody is sure who was the fastest.
"All I can tell you is my car felt great," Rusty Wallace said. "My speeds are good. We've got to get in the race and see what happens. I remember last year in the first five races everyone was screaming about how hard the tires were and the competition wasn't good. We used to run in the middle and top of the track all the time, but these tires are so hard you can't get up there right now.
"I think since these tires are soft the tracks are going to blacken up and the second and third grooves are going to start coming in. I believe it's going to be for the better. I really do."
Despite the new rules, drivers said they didn't learn much during their journey out west. But it was time well spent, because it allowed them to keep an eye on the competition.
"It's definitely going to be different with the small spoilers, but it's the same for everybody," Matt Kenseth said. "I don't really see anything big coming out of those tests. I think the same teams are going to run good and the same teams that struggle are probably going to struggle."
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