The official start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series may be more than one month away, however four teams will be back on the track next week to take part in a two-day Goodyear tire test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports), Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing), Brad Keselowski (Team Penske) and Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing) are currently scheduled to participate in the test, set for Jan. 12-13 at the 1.5-mile track.
All four drivers are former series champions. It will be the first on-track activity for teams since an end-of-year test held last month at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
NASCAR re-tooled its testing platform before the start of the 2015 season, doing away with private team testing and debuting the NASCAR Series Master Unified Testing Schedule.
The schedule included a mix of two-day Goodyear tire tests often followed by a single-day open team test. When necessary, NASCAR officials also scheduled additional practice time as teams worked through the '15 rules package.
The changes to the testing policy were made in part to help teams control costs.
While financially beneficial and lauded by teams, the move does have some drawbacks, most notably as preparations for a new season get underway.
"It makes it a little more difficult as you try to validate or think of new ideas and get them implemented because you don't get the track time," Hendrick Motorsports General Manager Doug Duchardt said earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "But I think more than the parts and pieces, it's the people part of it that maybe is a little more different.
"About every team has small change to big changes to them; you can change a mechanic or two or a race engineer or a car chief and … then you have a different group of people working together at the race track under pressure. When you get into a practice time, and anyone that's been in the garage area during a practice and watched the crews make changes and many times in very tight quarters, you see how well orchestrated and how strong those guys are as a team to work together.
"So getting a new group of people together, working together in that environment is maybe the biggest thing that you can't duplicate before you get down to Daytona and maybe one of the bigger changes to work through."
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A new base rules package, similar to that used at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway in 2015, will be in place this season for events except those held at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.
The base package includes a 3.5-inch spoiler (decreased from 6 inches), a .25-inch leading edge (previously 2 inches) on the front splitter and a 33-inch wide splitter extension panel (radiator pan) replacing the current 38-inch pan.
Rear gear ratios will be adjusted to maintain 9,000 rpm maximum engine speed and a 1:38 third gear ratio will be in place for tracks under 1.25 miles.
The digital dash display will also be mandatory in the series this season.
Because next week's test is a Goodyear tire test only, the grandstands will not be open to the public.