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Revised testing policy may help Cup newcomers

October 05, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com



Revised testing policy may help Cup newcomers
Stenhouse Jr. taking advantage of extra track time testing 2013 Cup cars

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. isn't competing at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend, but the Nationwide Series title contender spent all of Wednesday at the big Alabama track helping to put 2013 model cars through their first paces in the draft. The Roush Fenway driver will have even more testing on deck next season, which could help flatten his learning curve in his first campaign on the Sprint Cup tour.

"Any on-track time will help, especially since I don't have a ton of experience in this Cup car. ... Next year, with the new body and aero, there will be a lot to learn. So, [these] tests will definitely be helpful for the team and myself."

--RICKY STENHOUSE JR.

NASCAR last week announced that it is opening up testing for the 2013 season, allowing each organization four tests of its choosing, regardless of how many cars the team fields. It's the first time the sanctioning body has expanded testing on competition tracks since the practice was curtailed for economic reasons in 2008. And it comes at a perfect time to benefit Cup newcomers like Stenhouse and Danica Patrick, who are both on the verge of jumping into the sport's top series full-time.

Stenhouse, currently nine points behind Elliott Sadler in the Nationwide title race, will move next season into the No. 17 car currently occupied by Matt Kenseth. Patrick, a Nationwide competitor who last year recorded the highest finish ever by a woman driver at the sport's national division, will compete full-time in the No. 10 car of Stewart-Haas Racing that she currently drives on occasion.

As of now, Stenhouse has three Cup starts, while Patrick has seven. Both move into the big league on a permanent basis next season, when NASCAR also introduces new car models for each of its participating manufacturers. Those four extra tests may not seem like much, but they're certain to help drivers who are trying to make up for what they lack in terms of experience.

"It will definitely help," said Stenhouse, the reigning Nationwide champion. "Any on-track time will help, especially since I don't have a ton of experience in this Cup car. I did a tire test at Vegas last year, and I think that was a huge success as far as getting me up to speed in the Cup car. We are looking to get back on track at Charlotte with it. Next year, with the new body and aero, there will be a lot to learn. So, those tests will definitely be helpful for the team and myself."

Tony Stewart, who owns Patrick's car, believes the additional tests will benefit his newest driver. "Absolutely," he said. "The more track time we can get her, the better, and having these four tests will definitely be something that will be of huge value to her for sure."

Given the introduction of the new car models, Stewart surmised that even seasoned drivers like teammate Ryan Newman and himself might be more likely to use those tests earlier in the season. Stewart-Haas will also likely test at tracks different from Hendrick Motorsports, with which the team shares information.

"We probably are going to want to use those tests early in the year to try and get a handle on what the car likes and dislikes, and what you learn there is going to transfer through the whole season," he said. "I think if you get a really good start to the year, you might save them for the end, but I think a lot of guys are going to try to utilize those tests really early in the year to try and gather as much information as possible."

NASCAR eliminated testing as a cost-saving maneuver in the midst of the most recent recession, leaving teams to drill at facilities that didn't host races in the sport's national division. Although the 2013 car models will be put through a rigorous testing schedule before they hit the track for real next season at Daytona, Stewart believes the time was right for NASCAR to allow teams more testing leeway.

"The reason they took tests away was to save teams money, but we've got a big adjustment and a big change with next year's new car, so I think it's appropriate," the three-time champion and team owner said. "I think it's a good opportunity to help all the teams, from the top to the bottom, have the opportunity to get some adequate testing with the new car and try to get a good handle on it."