Preseason Thunder to put cars back on track
January 08, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
While a new rules package awaits NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams for all non-restricted events in 2014, officials with the sanctioning body have said they expect very little change in the package used at the two tracks where restrictor plates are required -- Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
Sprint Cup teams are scheduled to test Thursday and Friday this week at Daytona, kicking off this year's Preseason Thunder program. NASCAR Nationwide Series teams will be on the track Saturday and Sunday while NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams will close the six-day effort with testing set for Monday and Tuesday.
Modifications to side skirts, rear-fascia areas and splitters are among the moves made during the offseason for competition on non-restricted tracks, where Cup teams will also be working for the first time without front-end ride height rules.
Those changes won’t be in effect for competition on restrictor-plate tracks, where speed remains king.
"The package essentially for Talladega and Daytona will … be for the most part unchanged from ’13," Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR vice president for innovation and racing development, said last month.
"There may be some slight things but they won't be major in magnitude."
Officials have since announced one adjustment -- raising the spoiler height from 4 inches to 4.5 inches for this week's test as well as next month’s Cup events at Daytona.
It is hoped that the additional downforce will provide a bit more stability for the cars at speed.
Past rule changes for Daytona and Talladega, such as tweaking the pressure relief valve settings and a reduction in the maximum grille opening measurement, helped curtail the two-car drafting that had become prevalent by limiting the amount to time two cars could run nose-to-tail on the big, fast tracks.
There was some concern, however, following last year's Daytona 500 when single-file racing dominated the day as the upper groove became the preferred line around the 2.5-mile track.
"The game's changed a little bit," race winner Jimmie Johnson said afterward. "It used to be defend the bottom (groove), now it’s defend the top."
Notable drivers not taking part in the test include Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers. Stewart continues his recovery from a broken right leg suffered in a sprint car accident last August while Vickers was sidelined late last year with a blood clot in his calf.
Veteran Mark Martin is scheduled to shake down the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in Stewart’s absence while Michael Waltrip will fill in for Vickers in the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota.
Both Stewart and Vickers are expected to return to their driving duties next month when the season officially gets underway.
Also, Ryan Truex will be in the No. 93 Toyota of BK Racing for the test in place of Travis Kvapil. Alex Bowman will test the team's No. 83 car at Daytona. He tested for the team at Charlotte in December.
The garage was set to open Thursday and Friday at 7:30 a.m. ET for this week’s test, with cars on the track from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. ET each day. But rain delayed the Thursday session.
On Thursday, more than 30 drivers are scheduled to participate in Fan Fest in the Fan Zone from 5:30-9:30 p.m ET.