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Harris: Testing Policy Should Receive Passing Grade

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 25 2009
Beginning next year, NASCAR tracks like Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, will be allowed to host test sessions. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Beginning next year, NASCAR tracks like Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, will be allowed to host test sessions. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

The announcement  this week that NASCAR has modified its test policy for 2010 was good news for some of its teams.

While the bulk of the test ban continues, the modification allows teams from every NASCAR division to test whenever they so choose at 14 of the organization’s sanctioned regional tracks where Sprint Cup, Nationwide and the Camping World Truck Series don’t race.

That includes tracks in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut, New York, Texas, California, Oregon and Utah.

Those tracks host only events at the regional level, which includes Camping World East and West, the Whelen Modified Tour and the Whelen Southern Modified Tour.

Nearly everyone is likely to take advantage of the new rule, but the biggest beneficiaries will be the so-called have-nots – the teams without the budget to spend unlimited hours in wind tunnel  testing, to hire computer geeks to come up with new and better  track simulations or buy very expensive shaker rigs and seven post machines.

The original test ban was announced last November in Homestead, with all NASCAR teams told they were not to have private tests at any NASCAR-sanctioned track.

The big-buck teams all have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars  or more on testing in previous years, many of them with  full-time test teams. NASCAR’s  idea in adopting a test ban was to help everyone, including those richer teams, save money in the face of the economic crisis.

They hoped a side effect might be to even out the competition, at least a little.

It didn’t quite work the way NASCAR intended because it’s virtually impossible to keep teams with money from spending it when everyone in racing believes the old adage that more dollars equal faster cars.

The big-buck teams continued to go testing. They just did it at non-sanctioned tracks like Rockingham, Pikes Peak, Alabama Motorsports Park and New Smyrna  Speedway.

And they also spent more time in those wind tunnels, working on simulations and putting their race cars through their paces on that special machinery.

The lack of testing at the tracks where they race did appear to hurt some Cup teams with good-sized budgets. Both Richard Childress Racing and Roush Fenway Racing have had so-so seasons, and plenty of people in their shops say the testing ban had a lot to do with the lack of performance.

Having the regional tracks available may not make that much difference for teams like RCR and Roush Fenway, but being able to schedule tests at Greenville Pickens-Speedway in South Carolina,  Tri-County Motor Speedway in North Carolina or South Boston Speedway in Virginia can and will give teams with limited test budgets some additional – and perhaps affordable – options.

You’re never going to make the playing field totally level when you have teams on one end of the spectrum with hundreds of employees, three or four cars and multimillion dollar budgets and teams at the other end with a half dozen employees, one car and just enough cash on hand to go from race to race.

But giving everyone a chance to do at least some testing at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks could be a step in the right direction.

– Mike Harris is the long-time auto racing beat writer for the Associated Press and now a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 25 2009
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