Back Seat Driver: Preseason Thunder with Larry Mac!

Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
Gooooood Morning, NASCAR NATION! It’s time for Preseason Thunder.

Okay, so it’s just testing, but those of us who are passionate about NASCAR will take it until the actual racing starts. Call it a horsepower patch to keep us from going into complete withdrawal from the sight of stock cars barreling down the backstretch.

Back Seat Driver (that’s me!) had the remarkable opportunity to speak with crew-chief-turned-television-analyst (FOX Sports, SPEED and TNT) Larry McReynolds at length Tuesday evening, and I asked him to comment on the 2012 Daytona tests. Just what did he think the teams will learn?

McReynolds said this season's testing session holds major importance for several reasons.  Of course technical issues such as the much-discussed EFI, aero changes, and more cooling system tweaks, but while the changes to the cars are important and pose challenges for the teams, McReynolds indicated that the two most important issues with which teams would be dealing are the new team rosters and changes to communication between drivers on the track.

“We have nine major multicar operations in Sprint Cup, and every single one of them has had one or more changes at the top, be it the driver, the crew chief, or Roush-Fenway going to three teams.” This session provides those new combinations the first chance to work together, to see how the human parts mesh. McReynolds, better known as Larry Mac, said, “You can hang out every single day in the offseason. You can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner together, but until you get to the racetrack and truly start working together you don’t know how that chemistry will be.”

What about that electronic fuel injection? Larry Mac doesn’t think it will be a big deal. For all the debate, all that’s been said and written about the change, he said, “With all the work that NASCAR’s done, that the engine builders have done, and I’ve talked to a lot of them, I just don’t think that once we close the  hoods on those racecars, I don’t think the fans will even know we’re racing it.”

The things Larry Mac thinks will be more important are the rule changes NASCAR made in response to what he described as the “fans’ displeasure” over the two-car tandem racing. Changes to the cooling system “again,” softer rear springs, and a smaller rear spoiler means teams will have several things to which they must adapt on the cars.

But the change that will probably make the most difference, and as a scanner listener I’m not sure how I feel about this, is the communication changes. In previous races the two drivers working together spoke directly to each other while navigating the racing pack. “No longer can a driver talk to another driver on the radio. A driver can only talk to his crew chief, his spotter, his team,” McReynolds said. 

Does he think the changes will end the two-car drafting? Probably not completely. McReynolds believes it will still exist, but not as pronounced, and eventually they'll move back toward the larger packs we used to see at the restrictor plate tracks. "We won't know for sure until the cars get out on the track and start drafting." 

Whether it ends the much-maligned tandem drafting or not, Larry Mac believes that this testing session will for sure be interesting since so many variables are involved. Will the 2012 season be as exciting as the 2011 season was? He says that with a season that saw 18 different drivers in Victory Lane, 5 of those first-timers, and a championship that came down to a tiebreaker, won by a driver who barely made it into the Chase, "it's going to be a tough act to follow." 

For the broadcast schedule of Preseason Thunder Daytona testing, check Rebecca Kivak's Skirts and Scuffs article "Teams face challenges at Daytona pre-season testing."
Back Seat Driver: Preseason Thunder with Larry Mac! Back Seat Driver: Preseason Thunder with Larry Mac! Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Thursday, January 12, 2012 Rating: 5