For three days this past weekend top NASCAR Sprint Cup teams tested the legendary 2.5-mile tri-oval with single-car runs, tandem runs and pack drafting sessions.
Much was learned, but confusion persists among some fans as this test was the technical application of mechanical and regulation changes.
The rules package tested included:
Smaller radiators with maximum of two gallon capacity
Smaller overflow tank with maximum capacity of half gallon
Radiator inlet moved up closer into the front center bumper area
Rate reduction in springs – softer springs
Smaller rear spoiler
Base line restrictor plate of 29/32 inch (1/64 inch larger than plate size for the 2011 Daytona 500)
New fin design.
A detailed explanation of these parameters would include mathematical data and engineering jargon that would be beyond most fans and this writer as well.
It’s prudent to seek comments by those in the know so there can be fewer folks in the dark.
In other words, what do the changes mean? What were the effects during testing?
Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton met with media all weekend to explain the purpose and consequences of the test period.
“I think so far we’ve had a good test and gaining a lot of information,” said Pemberton. “As everybody knows, we’ve been shrinking plates, growing plates and working on different parts of the cooling system and the goal was to see what our limits were. As you’ve seen over the three days, got big on a plate, now we think we’re honed in on where we need to come back and start Speedweeks.”
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin summed up his thoughts about the testing.
“If I had to guess right now and they lined us up to race, I’d say that you’d see a pack for most of the day,” Hamlin said. “You’re going to see breakaways here and there but I think that for the most part the pack can run fast enough to keep up with the two-car tandem.
“The two-car tandem will get out there a little bit but I think that if you get a big enough pack with 20 or 30 cars they will eat up a tandem pretty quick.”
Jeff Gordon had a favorable opinion of pack drafting sessions.
“I wish more than anything that we couldn’t push at all, because gosh, I had so much fun out there today in those big packs when we weren’t pushing,” Gordon said. “You can pass and the cars are moving around a little bit and kind of just reminds me of the good old days.
“It was a little wilder out there than I anticipated. I think they left a few things out of the instructions on the drafting because once we got out there, I thought we were like five to go in the Daytona 500. It was pretty wild.”
NASCAR’s Managing Director of Competition, John Darby explained the testing.
“With the 29/32 plate on, we’re still going to have the excitement of seeing some race speeds over 200 miles an hour. But at the same time we’ve been able to take all the engine builders off of suicide watch today. They’re in a much more comfortable place. The rpms are back to what I’m going to call reasonable, and everything is performing very well right now.
“One grille configuration change that we made yesterday or last night seems to have been very effective, and as we continue to close the gap or lessen that delta, I guess, if you will, between old-school drafting and tandem drafting, that’s being achieved. It’s getting closer and closer every time we make a change.”
The smaller the speed gap between pack drafting and tandem drafting will mean fewer tandem hookups during the long race. Many fans want that and NASCAR is trying its best to achieve that.
When this reporter asked Robin Pemberton if the ideal situation might be pack racing for most of the race and tandem racing maybe for the last five laps or so, he summed up his hopes.
“Well, I think everybody has opinions. I’m sure some people like the way it was ten years ago or a year ago. I mean, everybody is different. And so we’ve just got to have a nice mix for everybody, and you don’t want to alienate any part of the fan base for one reason or another.
“I think we’re going to get geared up and probably have a pretty damn good race when we come back here based off of what we’ve learned the last three days and what’ll probably unfold in the R & D Center and the shops over the next week or two.
“I mean, I’m pretty excited about it. There’s a lot of good cars out there. Speeds are up. For the first time in forever, we feel really good about our qualifying speeds, being in the mid-190 range, I think, according to John’s estimate. And we’re in for some good stuff ahead of us.”
It’s always significant to reiterate the importance of the Daytona 500 and 2006 Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson was quick to emphasize.
“It’s such a special race, and I feel very fortunate to have won that race,” Johnson said. “At that point I didn’t have a championship, and it’s one of two races that you get a title when you win this race, this one and the Brickyard. It can make a career, and it was a huge, huge thing when I won it in 2006.”
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained from official release materials provided by the NASCAR sanction, team or track representatives.