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Drivers Give Spoilers High Marks In First Test

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 19 2010
Greg Biffle takes laps in a car with a blade spoiler on the back during Tuesday's tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo courtesy of Texas Motor Speedway)

Greg Biffle takes laps in a car with a blade spoiler on the back during Tuesday's tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo courtesy of Texas Motor Speedway)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – From a more traditional stock car look to added front downforce, the first on-track “baby steps” test of NASCAR’s rear-deck spoiler played to generally positive reviews at Texas Motor Speedway Tuesday.

And Sprint Cup driver Greg Biffle suggested there may even be a residual effect to the device that is destined to replace the rear wing on the Car or Tomorrow.

“Maybe something I look at… is possibly a disruption of the Hendrick (Motorsports) dominance,” said Biffle, who drives for corporate Cup rival Roush Fenway Racing. All Cup teams will enter the 2010 season at Daytona International Speedway next month chasing reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, who won an unprecedented fourth consecutive title in November.

Furthermore, Johnson was joined by HMS teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon in an unprecedented sweep of the top three points positions in their Chevrolets after the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“They (HMS) may not miss a bit,” Biffle said. “But when there’s a change in the rules and a change in the aero package and things like that you’re going to have to figure out what works again a little bit. The downforce in the car and all that is staying about the same, so it’s not going to be completely different.  But it may be a little bit in there we can narrow that gap. We’ll all be on the same learning curve with that spoiler.”

Former Cup champions Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch joined Biffle and Brian Vickers for Day One of a two-day Goodyear tire test that took on added import when NASCAR gave the teams permission to test the aluminum spoiler on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval. NASCAR has booked an open test for Cup teams to run the blade at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a sister 1.5-mile facility to TMS, on March 23-24.

But there was plenty to talk about after Tuesday’s session, which saw each of the four manufacturers test a spoiler that ran four inches high and 64.5 inches wide, with no contour in the design. Additionally, the rear quarter panels on all cars were extended four inches toward the ground.

Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, said he found that setups may not change drastically with the blade. “We ran on the same setup (as with the wing). So it may not change anything as far as the setup goes,” Biffle said. “But (I’m) sure it’s going to change the racing.”

Vickers noticed only a subtle handling difference with his No. 83 Red Bull Toyota Camry.  “It added a little bit of front downforce, which probably is not a bad thing,” Vickers said. “It’s a little looser. A little more positive in the front steering, but nothing major. We can make a spring change and make a bigger difference than swapping (the rear wing).

“I think it’s going to be more receptive to the fans – looks a little cooler, a little more retro. I guess the big question…we haven’t been in a lot of traffic yet with it and how it’s going to handle in traffic. A spoiler, from what I’ve been told, is better in traffic. A spoiler is going to be more efficient in dirty air and a wing will be more efficient in clean air.”

Vickers said NASCAR did a good job as far as finding a balance between the wing and spoiler on short notice. “I mean, it’s like a couple track bar changes away,” Vickers said. “If you swapped them on pit road during a race, the next pit stop you could make a couple of changes to the track bar and wedge and you’d be fine. If anything it’s to the good because it should be better in traffic and should add more front downforce. But it’s not a major change.”

Busch, winner of last November’s  Dickies 500 here, ran his first laps with the spoiler on the No.2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger at the end of the session. Busch labeled those hot laps as “baby steps.”

“We tried what we call A-B…which is where you take the wing off, bolt the spoiler on,” said Busch, the 2004 Cup champion. “The car had a looser feel to it. It felt as if the front end was turning better and it felt like the rear end was sliding a bit more. And then when you A-B the sets of tires – like last year’s tire we won on and the tire Goodyear wants to head in the general direction of (in 2010) – it tightened the car back up for a nice comfortable feel. And that’s what we have to do – ultimately put together a better package for the drivers on the track, which will create more side-by-side excitement for our fans to enjoy.”

Busch, of Penske Racing, said his biggest disappointment with the COT has been the front end splitter and lack of travel in the front end.

“We’re setting these cars on bump rubbers instead of riding around on springs,” Busch said. “And to me, it limits the feel in the front end on how we can get the car to handle right. What it does with the spoiler is it seems to add front downforce. Don’t ask me how it does it; the engineers in the wind tunnel can tell us that. But when you bolt something on the back of the car and it adds to the front, that’s how space-age these cars are getting.”

Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy, said his Impala SS ran fine with the spoiler.  “I didn’t think it was a real big deal, honestly,” said Stewart, who is poised to start his second season as owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. “I haven’t even thought about it. I was told we were going to try it today…and it’s like OK. It didn’t seem to be a big balance change, which is good. That means you don’t have to re-invent the wheel, necessarily. It was a balance shift, but not a big balance shift. Not really.”

Stewart was more pleased with the time he actually spent testing for Goodyear Racing.

“I thought they did a good job today,” said Stewart, Cup champion in 2002 and 2005. “They had a lot of different combinations. Every time I’ve done a test they bring a lot of compounds, a lot of construction changes to try. So we harped on ‘em a couple of years ago hard enough to work harder and they did that. For that I’m thankful and I think all of us are. So we don’t mind doing the extra work for a couple of days to go and try to help sort it out and make it better for the sport. They’re working hard, they’re spending a lot of money to make it better and you got to give them credit for it.

“(Because) it’s all a package. You’ve got two kinds of grip – you’ve got aerodynamic grip and mechanical grip. The spoiler is obviously the aero grip and the tires are the mechanical grip. The good thing about mechanical grip is it doesn’t know the difference if you’re running first in line or 10th in line. Aero grip is when you know the difference from the rest of it. I get more excited about mechanical grip.”

Biffle, who didn’t run the spoiler until the afternoon portion, liked the way his Fusion handled.

“It drove a little bit different on the corner exit, I think, than the wing did,” Biffle said. “It may have had a little feel like the old car possibly in some scenarios, but it’s hard to tell. I went out and made 10 laps and then switched it. But I like it. You could tell it’s got some more drag because they made it a little bit bigger and wider. But I think it’s going to be good. I’m anxious to get side-by-side with some other cars and see how it drives.

“I’m sure at one point (Wednesday) we’ll try to find each other maybe for five or 10 laps and see how they drive. The reality is the car is big and square and they’re naturally not going to drive good behind one another. But maybe we’ll get an idea of what they do drive like around each other.”

Biffle also praised NASCAR officials for being proactive in listening to drivers, owners and fans on various means to improve the overall quality of racing.

“I think they’re trying to get the racing a little more competitive, which it’s damn competitive right now, if you ask me,” Biffle said. “We’ve got one of the biggest spectator sports in America and they want to keep it interesting.  They listen to the fans. They wanted double-file restarts, they did it. A lot of fans say they don’t like the wing on a traditional race car. They asked us about it, what we thought about it. We thought it would be good to put a spoiler back on the car, or at least try it. And I guess we’re trying it.”

Biffle also said it is realistic that the spoiler could be in use when the Cup series visits TMS for the Samsung Mobile 500 weekend April 15-18.

“I think six-eight races into the season they could implement this spoiler easily,” Biffle said. “For all the intermediate tracks, this car will respond fine to this spoiler. I think there needs to be some testing…little shorter, little taller, little narrower. I don’t think you can just spit something out of the blender and say that’s it. I’m hoping NASCAR does little variations with it to find out what really works on the car good.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 19 2010