News & Media

Crew chiefs dealing with changes in final tests

January 14, 2012, Dave Rodman,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Officials, crew chiefs, drivers all agree much was accomplished in three-day test

NASCAR completed its three-day Preseason Thunder Sprint Cup test session Saturday in advance of February's Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway and by the numbers alone, seemed to make a lot of progress in equalizing mass pack and tandem drafting.

In the morning session, which was dominated by single-car runs, the fastest laps were turned by Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, who teamed up in a tandem to run equal laps in an average of 201.545 mph. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's Jamie McMurray was the quickest single car at 194.456 mph.

"All in all, I think comments from the drivers have been pretty positive. The way the cars run in the draft, the way they can draft and do draft and what they do to get their cars running to their maximum potential. So far, we like what we've seen."


For Saturday morning, NASCAR returned to the 29/32nd-inch restrictor plate that was used Thursday, a 22 pounds-per-square-inch radiator pressure-relief valve and the smallest grill opening of the three days, about two inches high by 18 inches wide.

In the afternoon, when NASCAR made its last technical adjustment and switched back to the 25 PSI relief valve, Gordon was quickest with a lap of 200.562 mph that was set in the first 11 laps of practice, when about 20 cars engaged in a mass draft. The second mass draft of the test was cut short when Dale Earnhardt Jr., Juan Montoya and Jeff Burton got together near the back of the pack and crashed on the backstretch.

NASCAR's time sheets again didn't differentiate between pack, tandem or single-car runs but Gordon and Kahne were observed in a 200.316 mph tandem Saturday afternoon. EGR teammates McMurray and Montoya engaged in an eight-lap tandem run in which their best lap was 198.763 mph.

McMurray's crew chief Kevin Manion was positive about what his team, but more important than that, the entire garage area in conjunction with NASCAR, had achieved.

"The ambient temperatures [Saturday] for sure were cool," Manion said. "What the moving target is, is everyone as a whole working together to try and keep up with the rule changes."

NASCAR, which at the last minute presented teams with a new dimension of vertical "shark fin" that runs from the top of the back window back to the rear spoiler to assist in keeping cars on the ground in the event of accidents, had a different technical package in place all three days of the test. The tweaks involved different restrictor plates and cooling system elements.

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton continued his positive train of comments on Saturday.

"So far, so good," Pemberton said "We know that when we come out of here, there will be some loose ends we have to tie up and probably get all of our information together and come up with our final plans for Speedweeks. But all in all, everything is going according to plan."

Sprint Cup Series director John Darby echoed Pemberton's overview, saying every team had its new fin ready by mid-morning Thursday.

"The things that we are happy with, one being the restrictor plate size," Darby said. "We talked [Friday] about the reason for the change and that primarily being engine RPM. With the 29/32ndths 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 [Saturday].

"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."

Mike Messick, chief at-track engine tuner for Roush Yates engines, said once engine RPMs get near 9,000 he and his cohorts get nervous about not having problems for 500 miles. Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines head Richie Gilmore added that the 22 PSI valve had engines overheating in the garage area before they went on-track. That configuration added the problem of high engine oil temperatures, which Gilmore said didn't drop as quickly as water temperatures when drivers ducked the noses of their cars out of a tandem draft.

"The one grill configuration change that we made [Friday] night seems to have been very effective, and as we continue to close the gap or lessen that [difference], if you will, between old school drafting and tandem drafting, that's being achieved," Gilmore said. "It's getting closer and closer every time we make a change."

Manion was one of the chief mechanics that agreed with that assessment.

"It's nothing nobody can do," Manion said of the daily adjustments. "Everyone's trying real hard -- you saw every car that was here [Friday] out there in that draft, trying to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

"I think the most important thing is to fill them seats with fans and to put a good show on for the people watching at home and the people that spent their hard-earned money to come down here on vacation and see a good race. I think everyone's working to achieve that so you still got to touch on the tandem stuff because in old-school drafting you needed a partner -- a guy on your bumper -- to make it to the front.

"But it was fun to watch that big pack out there, for sure. And I think we'll get back there with the rules that are changing and I think you'll see that."

Garage Cam Replay

Take a peek behind the scenes at Daytona testing.

That's definitely NASCAR's hope.

"All in all, I think comments from the drivers have been pretty positive," Pemberton said. "The way the cars run in the draft, the way they can draft and do draft and what they do to get their cars running to their maximum potential. So far, we like what we've seen. It's been a good mix of what they can do in a larger pack and how close they can get for a limited time to push."

Mass drafting's risk, which Stewart-Haas Racing, Phoenix Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing avoided Saturday by packing their five cars up and leaving before the session, was realized about 10 minutes after the draft began.

The three drivers involved had different perspectives, but the test ended for the cars of Earnhardt and Burton, whose No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet had to be towed back to the garage. Montoya never spun and drove his No. 42 EGR Chevy back to the garage and was one of the last cars to quit running, right before 5 p.m. ET.

"I was in the middle of Dale and the No. 31 and they just closed the door like I wasn't there," said Montoya, who was only on his fourth lap at the time, while most of the rest of the group had run 10 or 11. "I tried to bail out, but it wasn't happening."

Burton had cut a tire in Friday's drafting session and smacked the backstretch wall, forcing his team to do a great rebuild to the car's right side to enable their test to continue. Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer didn't regret trying to make his race car more raceable but he rued losing all the track time.

"I was falling back to the back because I was getting hot, I was in the middle of the race track and was waiting for everybody to go by," Burton said. "And I got hit, so I don't really know what happened. I thought I gave everybody room, but I don't know -- it's hard to see. Probably something happened below me."

Earnhardt later took a couple solo laps in his teammate Jimmie Johnson's car but was done with his own No. 88, which he was unclear how it had gotten damaged on the right front.

"Honestly, I don't 100 percent know what happened," Earnhardt said, eyeing his car's side. "I just got hit in the right front quarter panel and it's fine, just a little fender damage though we were lucky not to hit anything else."

Earnhardt wasn't disappointed to see his test end.

"We've been working for three days and we've learned a lot," Earnhardt said. "That draft right there was three-wide for several rows so I was just kind of sitting back and messing around. Somebody kind of ran up in there pretty fast and drove into us a little bit."

Preseason Thunder: Day 3

Morning Practice Speeds
Pos.DriverTimeSpeed Pos.DriverTimeSpeed
2. Jeff Gordon 44.655 201.545 17. A.J. Allmendinger 47.013 191.436
3. Kurt Busch 45.121 199.464 18. Aric Almirola 47.056 191.261
4. Mark Martin 45.122 199.459 19.Joey Logano 47.102 191.075
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.45.134 199.406 20.Ricky Stenhouse Jr.47.176 190.775
6. Jimmie Johnson 45.136 199.397 21.Greg Biffle47.188 190.726
7.Jeff Burton 45.215 199.049 22.Denny Hamlin47.195 190.698
8.Regan Smith 45.216 199.045 23.Clint Bowyer 47.217 190.609
9.Jamie McMurray 46.283 194.456 24.Marcos Ambrose47.260 190.436
10.Juan Montoya 46.644 192.951 25. Martin Truex Jr. 47.276 190.371
11.Paul Menard 46.721 192.633 26.Carl Edwards 47.317 190.206
12.Danica Patrick46.868 192.029 27.Matt Kenseth47.408 189.841
13.Tony Stewart 46.904 191.881 28.Brad Keselowski 47.534 189.338
14.Kyle Busch 46.955 191.673 29.Dave Blaney 47.739 188.525
15.Trevor Bayne 46.967 191.624 30.Joe Nemechek 47.855188.068

Preseason Thunder: Day 3

Afternoon Practice Speeds
Pos.DriverTimeSpeed Pos.DriverTimeSpeed
2.A.J. Allmendinger44.877200.548 15.Aric Almirola45.446198.037
3.Brad Keselowski44.877200.548 16.Greg Biffle45.451198.015
4.Kasey Kahne44.892200.481 17.Matt Kenseth45.452198.011
5.Denny Hamlin45.006199.973 18.Marcos Ambrose45.488197.854
6.Joey Logano45.007199.969 19.Carl Edwards45.540197.628
7.Martin Truex Jr.45.090199.601 20.Regan Smith45.541197.624
8.Clint Bowyer45.091199.596 21.Joe Nemechek46.199194.809
9.Juan Montoya45.190199.159 22.Jimmie Johnson46.462193.707
10.Jamie McMurray45.248198.904 23.Paul Menard46.560193.299
11.Dale Earnhardt Jr.45.310198.632 24.Kevin Harvick46.744192.538
12.Mark Martin45.368198.378 25.Trevor Bayne46.777192.402
13.Jeff Burton45.378198.334 26.Trevor Bayne *47.001191.485

That marked the end of drafting. Penske Racing leader Brad Keselowski said he would have preferred to pack draft all day, but there weren't many, if any takers on that idea.