Focus turns to 1.5-mile tracks with fast CMS test
December 11, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- The notion that racing had concluded for the season was dispelled -- at least for a day -- as NASCAR teams gathered en masse Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway to fine-tune the 2014 Sprint Cup Series rules package for intermediate tracks.
The test -- pushed back two days because of inclement weather -- featured four 30-lap simulated races for four different configurations of rules setups for the sixth generation (Gen-6) of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car. The races, which came complete with double-file starts, featured up to 30 cars -- most in primer or base paint schemes. Three sessions of single-car tuning were also on the schedule.
By the end of the Configuration A race, 'won' by Kevin Harvick in his new No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, NASCAR's competition department already had real-time data in hand with more to be analyzed through the coming 24 hours. The races also created multi-car data that couldn't be reproduced in a wind tunnel.
The chart above shows what was being tested on Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The test was scheduled for Monday but pushed back due to bad weather.
"Right now we're focusing on 1.5(-mile tracks), but obviously any of the learning can be applied to other tracks," said Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR's vice president of innovation and racing development. "Really what we're attempting to do here is to get closer competition and more passing, closer competition, the cars running closer in the pack, passing more with an eye for the fans. That's basically what we're doing."
To hear some drivers tell it, the early review of the first configuration race was underwhelming. Austin Dillon, announced as the full-time Sprint Cup driver of the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing in between sessions, applauded the effort being made, but said the first package of rules needed work.
"Everybody is very proud of what NASCAR is doing to try and put everybody together and come up with a better solution to what we need to race better," Dillon said. "The first session went in the wrong direction. All the drivers kind of felt it went in the wrong direction. But it was the best effort we had put together as a group to try to make our racing better. Actually, Brad (Keselowski) said that in our meeting. It was a good effort, I think. We've just got to figure something else out. It's probably not the right package yet."
Team owner Richard Childress echoed his grandson's comments, saying that cars with the first package were too fast to create competitive racing. By comparison, Harvick prevailed in the first simulated race by a large margin at 4.975 seconds, recording a best lap of 194.868 mph -- just under the track qualifying record of 195.624, set by Denny Hamlin here in May. The second simulated race, won by rookie Kyle Larson with a best lap speed of 191.755 mph, carried a much closer margin of victory at .844 seconds.
The chilly December morning air was at least a partial factor in the near-record speeds early Wednesday.
"For us to compare this to prior races where the weather conditions were so different would be tough to do. But when we do our configuration A, B, C and D, we can kind of compare them," Stefanyshyn said.
"Today, with it being as cold as it is, an engine breathing in cold, damp air, the engine will go faster, the air being heavier will create more downforce and the track being cooler will get more friction or mechanical grip. So this is probably the extreme of what we would see in regards to speeds and loads and that type of thing. So from that perspective, it’s good because it gives us some confidence that what we are doing is OK."
Configuration races C and D for the 2014 Gen-6 car were scheduled later Wednesday on the 1.5-mile track, with the on-track activities bookended by 30-minute debriefing meetings involving NASCAR, drivers, crew chiefs and manufacturers.
Even though a complete analysis of the findings won't come immediately, Robin Pemberton -- NASCAR's vice president of competition -- said that the timeline for determining the 2014 rules was "ASAP, hopefully beginning of next week." Stefanyshyn added that both objective, measurable data and subjective feedback would be taken into account in settling on a final setup.
"It's not a perfect science, but we try to take all those inputs and utilize them in the triangulation to find the right answer," he said. "You will never get 100 percent agreement on everything. So really you're kind of looking for the 70 percent answer here that kind of leads you in the right direction."