Small changes make big difference for drivers at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- When Matt Kenseth’s crewmen repaired his No. 20 car after it suffered damage in the opening practice last week at Daytona International Speedway, they also made one more change -- moving his mirrors to the positions in which he’d been used to seeing them for a decade at Roush Fenway Racing.
Such small alterations can loom large in these Speedweeks, during which drivers are wheeling more brand-indefinable NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars for the first time. The new Generation-6 vehicles feature slightly different dimensions in certain areas, which can mean slight differences in mirror placement, which forces competitors to adapt as they continue to prepare for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
That was certainly the case for Kenseth, whose new Joe Gibbs Racing vehicle was outfitted with that team’s customary mirror positions when it rolled out for practice last week. After he came down across the front of Kurt Busch -- Kenseth later said he never saw the No. 78 car -- the two-time Daytona 500 champion had his mirrors returned to the positions he was more accustomed to over his long tenure with Roush.
“I felt like I could see a lot better (afterward),” Kenseth said Wednesday before the first of two practices for Thursday’s 150-mile qualifying races. “But still, you’ve got to be aware of where somebody’s at. That wasn’t a car thing, it wasn’t anything that was out of control. I just didn’t see him there and ran over his nose.”
"You move one simple thing six or seven inches, things become a lot different."
-- Kevin Harvick
But even drivers who didn’t change teams in the offseason are being forced to adapt. Former Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick said he believed the first two big crashes of Speedweeks -- Kenseth coming down on Busch in practice, and Tony Stewart coming down on Marcos Ambrose in The Sprint Unlimited -- were the product of drivers adjusting to left-side mirrors that are in different positions than they were before.
“Just the way that things are in the car, whether it be something silly like your side mirror -- mine is in a much different spot, much different shape than what it was,” Harvick said. “The first five or six times I looked for the mirror, it was in a different spot, and I didn't see it because it wasn't there. … The mirrors are in a different spot, the window nets are a little different. Silly stuff like that really matters because when you've been driving something week after week for four years, everything is in the same spot. And you move one simple thing six or seven inches, things become a lot different.”
Denny Hamlin said that because the rear quarter-panels on the new cars are more flared out, mirrors have had to be adjusted so drivers can see more of the left or right sides.
“By doing that, it changes you depth perception of the inside car, whether he’s there or not,” he said. “Really, I think it’s all a learning process. Really none of the wrecks in Speedweeks so far have been the car’s fault. It’s just really the guys behind the wheel, me included, are learning. It just takes time to get it right, and that’s why we can’t go a practice without wrecking.”
That was again the case Wednesday, when Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman collided in an accident that also collected Mark Martin. But getting acquainted with new mirror placement is far from a recent phenomenon -- former NASCAR champion and current ESPN analyst Dale Jarrett recalls going through similar adjustments each time he drove a different type of car.
“I can remember doing the same thing,” the three-time Daytona 500 champ said. “It’s amazing, that it’s just little things like that. … I can remember getting in new cars before, and those things not being there. You sit in the shop, and you look in your mirrors, and you see your side mirror and everything, and you get your steering wheel and you think all that’s right. And then you get here and get settled down in the seat, and all of the sudden just moving an inch or so in that seat has changed everything about that, in where you look and how you actually see. Those aren’t little things. Don’t take that as complaining. It’s just when you change things … it doesn’t take much to throw us off.”
And it requires an adjustment that will change with each race track -- with Daytona being only the beginning.
“That will take some time to get used to, and that will change at different tracks as to what you want to see,” Jarrett said. “What you want to see here out of your mirrors, and what you want in the position of your seat and steering wheel, may be a little different than when it gets to Phoenix next week, and then to Vegas because the banking changes that, and the type of race track changes that. So that’s going to be some ongoing things they’re going to battle.”
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