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NASCAR Looking For Inner Beauty In 2013 Cars

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 11 2012

The 2013 cars – including this Camry of Kyle Busch – took to the track this week at Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – If beauty is in the eyes of the car-owner, then NASCAR star Greg Biffle believes Ford fans will have plenty to like about the 2013 version of the Sprint Cup Series Fusion.

But it’s all the mechanical stuff underneath the updated sheet metal that has “The Biff-Man” intrigued following conclusion of a two-day test at Texas Motor Speedway.

“You guys are looking at the cosmetic changes; I don’t even see ‘em,” Biffle said during a media briefing Tuesday, first of the two-day Goodyear tire test around TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval. “I mean, I see the right rear wheel tipped-in three degrees, not as drastic as the right front, but I see the mechanical things of the car different. The chassis is the same so my cockpit is the same but the suspension and things are different on the car, and the aero package is a little different. Those are the things I notice about the car.

“Yeah, it looks cool and looks a lot different and I love the look of it. I’m glad we got the windshield laid back and the roof laid down – looks like a race car to me. Looks great. And the stagger and all these small things will come as we get more time with this new car.”

Biffle, of Roush Fenway Racing, joined Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing, Paul Menard of Richard Childress Racing and Juan Pablo Montoya of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates to test Goodyear Eagles on the next generation cars that will debut during Speedweeks 2013 at Daytona International Speedway in February. Busch wheeled the new Toyota Camry while Menard and Montoya put laps on the 2013 Chevrolet Impala SS.

The session at TMS was the third this season and first on a 1.5-mile layout. The new cars previously were tested in August on the half-mile Martinsville Speedway and at the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway last week. The rigorous testing schedule will continue at the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway on Oct. 23-24 and at the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway on Nov. 6-7.

The Cup Series will compete here in the AAA Texas 500, Race No. 8 of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, on Nov. 4. The new models will make their official TMS debut on Saturday, April 13, in the Texas 500. The import of the TMS tests was spelled-out by Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition.

“The core of our racing is mile-and-a-half racetracks, even though they’re different from each other,” Pemberton

The crew of Paul Menard rolls its camouflaged 2013 Chevrolet out onto the track at Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

said. “We race here twice and we start here early in the year next year, but it’s important to work on these cars and make them as competitive as we can around the mile and-a-halfs. That’s our meat-and-potatoes right there.”

Pemberton noted NASCAR has been working “hand-in-hand” with Goodyear Racing engineers to build tires specifically for the new cars in a bid to optimize grip.

“We have built this car, and the teams have built this car, with the mindset that we are going after more mechanical grip and reduce some of the aero dependencies of the car for 2013,” Pemberton said. “So, it’s an ongoing test process with Goodyear and the race teams. This test at Texas is actually our very first test with multiple cars with the new aero package.”

Biffle, who won the Samsung Mobile 500 at TMS on April 14, said he began the session with a 2012 configuration before changing over to a 2013 spec.

“I think it’s definitely headed in the right direction, 100 percent,” said Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford. “And the reason why I say that is they’ve taken weight out of the car – they’ve lightened the car 160 pounds, which I think was definitely the right move. Basically, what they’re working on, or we together, is getting more mechanical grip in the car and the car not be so aero-dependent for grip on the racetrack. So if you take the body off the car and run the car with no body on it, you’ve got to get the balance and the car to have grip like that. And then the body has to compliment that.

“Sort of what I feel right now is the car really drives off aero a lot – it’s real sensitive to being behind another car

Greg Biffle says lighter is better in Cup cars. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

and trying to pass, which is always going to be like that. You’re never going to fix that because of the laws of physics – the guy in the front has clean air, or undisturbed air, so when you’re behind him…you’re never going to fix that. You can try to minimize the effect of that by trying to give the car more mechanical grip and that’s what NASCAR is working on by giving some camber in the rear axle housing and things.

“You can feel the car has a lot more right rear grip in it with a lot more downforce off of it, so we’re headed in that direction. Can we make it better? Sure. We can always polish and work on it and make it better. Like with the new car, I guarantee you there’ll be small changes in-between 2013 and 2014…maybe a little modification to the spoiler. But I think they’ll continue to make it better.”

Biffle said the new car drove “drastically different” than the Ford he wheeled into Victory Lane here in the spring. “The (2013) car was much, much tighter – the back of the car and it shoved the nose of the car a lot more,” said Biffle, ninth in Cup points after four Chase events, 49 behind leader Brad Keselowski of Penske Racing. “That was with no adjustments to the chassis or the suspension or the sway bar, track bar, springs, shocks. All we simply did was take the weight out, put the axle housing in and some other aero things in it to make the change. From there we were back in the corner and we needed to start on the tire test, so we didn’t get a chance to maybe add some spring split to the back to try to get it to turn better or whatnot.

“Definitely, I’ve been talking to Goodyear about stagger. We’ve taken stagger out of these tires now and it makes the car not want to turn in the center and push the nose off. We are racing in a circle and the rear axles are locked together, so the closer you make those two tires to be of equal size, the car doesn’t want to turn anymore. Now, maybe with these changes – this camber and all these things and this new car – maybe we can get some of that stagger back so the car will turn better in the center and then when we’re on the gas, which typically will make better side-by-side racing because you can come off the corner and turn and have forward drive.”

Biffle estimated he logged well over 120 laps – most in 10-lap increments for Goodyear – testing compounds. “Goodyear can definitely put some speed in the race car and they can definitely take speed out of the race car,” said Biffle, who finished sixth in Sunday’s crash-marred Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega. “They can put drive-ability in it and take it away. So it’s a tradeoff between too much tire temperature, the lap-times and speed and how the car drives. So you’ve got to kind of dial that in to the best you can get.

“A few different times I felt like the car was driving like it did in April, especially when Goodyear bolts on a real sticky tire. The thing goes flying down into the corner, hooks the white line and you can wear the gas pedal out. The only thing is everybody else can do the same thing. But you sure do feel good when they put some grip in it all

Kyle Busch suits up in garages at Texas for this week's test of the 2013 cars. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

of a sudden – it like fixes all the problems. If you’re car is sliding, a little tight, a little loose they bolt some soft compound tires on it and off she goes without any issues.”

For NASCAR, each test session is a step toward fine-tuning a project that has been in the making for more than two years.

“We have had (2013) cars built in the (wind) tunnel and they had certain looks a year ago or more and we pushed for more detail, we pushed for more ‘look,’ ” Pemberton said. “It separated the numbers a little bit but we worked with the manufacturers for everybody to put as much identity in it as they can but also in an area that we could regulate the sport and keep it within a certain window. They’re not all the same. They’re not. But they’re close and they can compete and that was part of all this test process, to make sure no one was disadvantaged when they got to the track. There may be arguments from time to time about different things but I think all-in-all we’re in a pretty good place.”

Recall that introduction of NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow” (COT) in 2007 marked the arrival of a chassis focused on safety and provided little difference in the way of body style to the manufacturers. With the 2013 car, NASCAR has redefined its goal to provide a sleeker race car that allows for more unique characteristics similar to the SS, Fusion and Camry found on the showroom floor of a dealership.

“That was the entire goal of this car, was to update it,” Pemberton said. “And it’s about product relevance. We got away from that for a number of years when our primary focus was safety and cost and we felt like we had good, competitive racing. But the thing that we lacked was product relevance and having the cars look more like showroom cars.

“This effort that we’ve had here for the Cup car, it’s over two years to get it to this point. We started this project right after we launched the new Nationwide car that has the (Dodge) Challenger, the (Ford) Mustang and next

NASCAR official Robin Pemberton says the hope is that the new cars de-emphasize aero. (File photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

year we’ll also have the 2013 (Chevy) Camaro. Toyota has their Camry in that series also. So when we were putting the final touches on the Nationwide car we were already putting a plan together for the new Cup car and it was all about the product relevance and getting the look back into the race cars that you see on your showroom floor.

“The input from the manufacturers has probably been at an all-time high. The involvement from their engineering staffs – and not just the racing part of their engineering staff but into the styling and deep into the company – this project’s had a lot of support from everybody in all the ranks in all the manufacturers. The end product that you see out here will set the precedent.”

To that end, Pemberton said the new cars hopefully will address one of the ongoing criticisms of the COT – the lack of passing. “When the best cars get out-front, they’re the best cars and that’s why they’re out-front,” Pemberton said. “Our goal here, and some of the things we’ve done, is try to minimize the advantage the lead car has when it gets by itself. That’s something that we’ve worked very hard on over the past year, year and a-half, and we’ll see where we wind up with the rules package. That’s why it’s important to put as much mechanical grip into the car and get it balanced-out with the aero grip that we’ve taken away.”

Montoya said he spoke about the passing issue with engineers on-site during Tuesday’s session. “I told them when you think about it right now, even when you go to a place like Loudon (1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway) you get behind somebody you get aero-tight,” said Montoya, driver of the No. 42 Target/Gillette Chevy Impala. “And you’re not going that fast. Having that much less downforce I think is going to help and amazingly enough, the speeds right now are pretty high. This morning we were running 29.0-(seconds), and pole in the spring race was 28.50. And we were in race trim. So it was pretty encouraging, to be honest.”

Montoya’s 29-second lap translated to a speed of 186.207 mph. Martin Truex Jr.’s pole-winning time for April’s Samsung Mobile 500 was 28.366-seconds at 190.369 mph.

“This thing has a lot of grip and I was pretty happy with the car,” Montoya said. “It was a very pleasant surprise. When the day got really hot I think we were probably a little tighter. I’m surprised that it doesn’t feel…it’s not unpredictable. It doesn’t do anything strange and I think they look really cool. I think the other (current) cars, every manufacturer looks the same and the changes were so small. I think this car has a lot of personality. With the SS…I know right now you don’t see too much but it’s going to look really, really cool. I think if you’re a fan and you like a certain car you’re really going to fall in love watching it race. You can really relate to it more than before.”

Pemberton acknowledged the varying body styles will mean added work for NASCAR’s tech officials and their templates throughout each day of the typical race weekend.

“Yeah, it’s going to be difficult for us, to say the least,” Pemberton said. “It’s going to take a lot more man-hours; it’ll take our officials…they’ll have to chase this thing on a regular basis. But when we sat down and talked about this, everybody knows this is going to be a big project. Everybody knows to get the cars to look the way they needed to it was going to take a large effort on our part to officiate the sport. But we all know one thing, that it’s going to be worth it because the product is going to be the best it’s ever been.”

Pemberton added he even expects more teams to try to fudge with the rules. “I never expect any less out of ‘em. Let’s leave it at that,” Pemberton said with a smile. “We’ve got great competitors out there and they all know they have to push it to the limit. But that’s why we understand that it’s going to be a chore for us, but well worth it.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 11 2012
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