NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Testing Ban Another Example of NASCAR’s Brilliance

Looking at the news from this past week, one would never know that there is a testing freeze in place in NASCAR. The Sprint Cup Series tested at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a new spoiler package. Boris Said and Roush Fenway Racing were running laps at Road America in preparation for the first ever Nationwide Series race at the venue. Eric McClure was at road-racing school in Sonoma. John Wes Townley was testing ARCA cars in Talladega.

Looking at that list, every single one of those tests is a necessary and beneficial practice. With the Cup cars about to debut a completely new aero package substituting a wing for a spoiler, there’s no doubt the teams need some time to figure their new rear end mechanisms out. Stock cars actually needed to be on track at Road America before NASCAR raced there. McClure could stand to improve some on the road courses. And Townley needs all the seat time he can get anywhere.

What this all makes clear is that this continued testing freeze that NASCAR insists on is asinine.

Let’s take a look at the spoiler test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Regardless of what writers and commentators out there predict about the effect (or lack thereof) this change to a spoiler will have on the racing seen on track, that can’t be known unless the teams are allowed on the tracks they’re going to race on, and given the freedom to figure their cars out.

Make no mistake: Though it may not look much different to those of us in the stands or watching on TV, changing from the wing to a spoiler is a significant alteration to these race cars. Teams are going to need track time to get it right. Yet, after allowing the teams to test a superspeedway and an intermediate, NASCAR is content to let it go at that, to just turn their midseason rule change loose and assume that fans will automatically be won over by a more traditional stock car look (though frankly, the kit CoT getting a blade spoiler is putting lipstick on a pig).

Those same fans aren’t going to forget what NASCAR went through during the introduction of the under-tested CoT. Tire problems were rampant, be it from hitting the new splitters or the new weight distributions, or in the case of Indianapolis both the sanctioning body and their exclusive tire provider just assuming it would all work itself out. And those fans that are left aren’t going to forget that it took well over a season for the teams to get the CoT cars handling well enough to put on solid races.

At a time when the sport absolutely has to have good racing every week, not allowing teams time apart from showtime to get their stuff right is asinine.

On the other hand, it was certainly not asinine of NASCAR to dispatch road veteran Said to conduct a test and gather data to be shared with every Nationwide Series team regarding their upcoming road visit to Road America. Considering that NASCAR has not raced in any form at the facility since 1956, it’s fortunate that in their infinite wisdom the sanctioning body decided to run a car up there first.

But why in the world does it do any good to limit the test to one car, to one team? Why not open it up and let those Nationwide teams looking to run well on the road courses come to the venue and put their stuff through its paces? And for that matter, why not open it up to allow development drivers with available funding to come up there and get some non-competitive laps on the facility? Said himself has stated that the course is extremely technical. If one of the greatest road racers in American history is saying that, what is a green stock car rookie going to say about it?

It makes absolutely no sense to add a 4-mile road course to the schedule and then not allow teams to come test on it. Even the ARCA Racing Series hosted an open test when they made the decision to add Palm Beach International Raceway to their 2010 slate. If ARCA can do it, there’s no reason NASCAR can’t. And if a number of ARCA teams can afford to get out there and test, a number of NASCAR’s can as well.

Furthermore, is it even really all that effective to have teams basing all of their pre-race prep around video of Said tackling the Road America course? Boris is a fantastic road racer, that’s beyond question, but he does have a very distinct style. Without using adjectives, Ron Fellows he is not. Said has a style that works for him, and having the road-racing background he does, Said knows full well how abrasive he can be with his racecars, his brakes, etc. But road racing is such an individual art, one can’t help but question that having one driver with one unique style and having his version of events being what every competitor in the Nationwide Series has to base their race prep on is an iffy proposition.

It’s not a stretch to conclude that continuing heavy restrictions on testing despite new car components and new tracks is, for repetition’s sake, asinine. And furthermore, the cost saving elements that the policy was implemented around just aren’t coming to fruition. Sure, the big teams can’t test at all 20-plus tracks on the circuit and have a notebook for everywhere they go, but have their budgets gone down? What they’re not spending at the well-known ovals they’re spending at Andy Hillenburg’s “Little Rock” or in the wind tunnel. And look at the past week’s test in Charlotte… the only full-time operations not to show up were the start-and-park brigade, Tommy Baldwin Racing (who while racing have as close to a zero-dollar sponsor as can be found in motorsports) and Casey Mears‘s Keyed-Up team.

Now, granted, someone out there may want to say that opening testing back up would make it even harder for those small-time operations to compete. Hmm… last time I checked Mears has made only one race this year despite the ban.

The fact is, smaller teams and operations can’t test as much as the larger ones, restrictions or not. But just like they have to run races on two sets of tires instead of six, those teams simply have to pick and choose where to spend their money. Look at McClure, who’s doing his second road-race school this week out at Infineon Raceway. His Hefty sponsorship is not even close to being lucrative, so what is his Rensi team doing? They’re spending money where they need the most improvement… and for McClure, that’s on road courses.

Just look at ARCA. Despite the tough economic times, ARCA has still continued to host open tests throughout their racing season. And though the smaller budget operations that frequent that Series, such as those of Darrell Basham, Brad Smith and Wayne Peterson were all unable to afford to test at Palm Beach, they still were there on race day.

It’s completely asinine of NASCAR, in a season where they’re changing their racecars six weeks into the Cup slate, adding new venues to the Nationwide Series schedule and dealing with an overabundance of development drivers with nowhere to go to keep a testing ban that’s saving no one any money in place. NASCAR needs testing. The teams need testing. Racing needs testing.

Because drivers need a place to learn other than start-and-parking.

Because NASCAR hasn’t been to Road America in 54 years.

And because more and more fans are going to keep forgetting about NASCAR as long as the No. 48 car has their status quo at the top being preserved by a rule that’s tying the hands of everyone who would otherwise be innovative enough to catch them.

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