Teams face challenges at Daytona pre-season testing

Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano draft together at the Daytona fuel injection test
in October 2011. Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
The 2012 NASCAR season officially gets on track this week with the first Sprint Cup test session of the year. The roar of engines will return to Daytona International Speedway for Preseason Thunder - three straight days of testing, from Thursday to Saturday, at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

The pivotal test gives Sprint Cup teams the opportunity to fine-tune their restrictor-plate programs for Speedweeks and NASCAR’s main event, the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26. But with a new season comes new challenges, and teams will face no shortage of them over the next three days. From the new rules package at Daytona, to the implementation of election fuel injection, to a plethora of driver and crew changes, teams will have their work cut out for them.

Tandem racing and Daytona rules package

It’s the racing everyone loves to hate. At last year’s test, Sprint Cup drivers discovered that the fastest way around Daytona’s newly paved surface was to hook up with another car from tail to bumper - hence the two-car draft was born. Tandem racing has become the norm at restrictor-plate tracks, much to the dislike of fans and many of the sport’s drivers, who long for the days of the traditional pack racing. The phenomenon has also furnished an atmosphere of racing politics. Though denying it afterward at Talladega last fall, Ford went so far as to ban its drivers from working with cars from other automakers.

In the wake of the outcry over the two-car drafting, NASCAR has implemented a new rules package to try and break up the tandems. The following changes target the cooling system: a smaller radiator, a smaller overflow tank and moving the radiator inlet up closer into the front center bumper area. Under these conditions, NASCAR is hoping that two cars drafting together will overheat sooner, preventing the cars from hooking up for long periods of time. Other changes – softer springs and a smaller rear spoiler – are designed to make the car handle worse in the two-car tandems. Thursday’s afternoon test session, the first set aside for drafting, will provide the first glimpse as to whether NASCAR’s changes will yield the desired results.

NASCAR also authorized a bigger restrictor plate at 29/32 inch, which is 1/64 inch larger than the plate for last year’s Daytona 500. A bigger restrictor plate means more horsepower, so racecars can reach higher speeds. During the three-day test, expect to hear 200 mph used as a measuring stick. 200 is the magic number as far as NASCAR is concerned, as speeds above that number are considered especially dangerous.


The switch to electronic fuel injection marks one of the biggest technological changes in the sport’s history. After conducting several tests last season, NASCAR is throwing away the carburetors the sport has relied on for six decades and requiring fuel injection for its Sprint Cup engines. The change means the racecars will have the same fuel system as your everyday street cars, finally catching up with the times.

While fans won’t see any difference on the track, teams will. Compared to carburetors, the computer-controlled fuel injection allows for a more efficient flow of fuel to the engine. The new system should also provide better fuel mileage. With so many races in 2011 decided by mere drops or even fumes, fans and teams will be watching to see EFI’s effect on gas mileage.

Driver/crew changes

The off-season has brought an unprecedented number of changes in team personnel. The three-day Daytona test will be the first chance for several drivers, crew chiefs, spotters and more to work with their new teams.

Looking at just the top 20 Sprint Cup drivers in points in 2011, eight will have either switched teams (Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and AJ Allmendinger) or be working with a new crew chief (champion Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton) for 2012. Not only will drivers and crew chiefs be focusing on their cars at Daytona, but they’ll be getting to know their crews, working on communication and establishing routines.

Preseason Thunder coverage

SPEED will provide 21 hours of live coverage through its website and on television during the three-day test. The morning sessions will be streamed on and the afternoon sessions will be broadcast on the SPEED channel.

The viewing schedule is as follows (all times are in Eastern Standard Time):

Thursday, Jan. 12:
9 a.m. - 12 p.m. (
1 p.m. - 5 p.m. (SPEED)
6 p.m. - 8 p.m. (SPEED encore of 3-5 p.m. session)

Friday, Jan. 13:
9 a.m. - 12 p.m. (
1 p.m. - 5 p.m. (SPEED)
6 p.m. - 8 p.m. (SPEED encore of 3-5 p.m. session)

Saturday, Jan. 14:
9 a.m. - 12 p.m. (
1 p.m. - 5 p.m. (SPEED)
6 p.m. - 8 p.m. (SPEED encore of 3-5 p.m. session)

During testing, fans can follow @SPEED on Twitter and submit questions and comments using the hashtag #daytonatesting.
Teams face challenges at Daytona pre-season testing Teams face challenges at Daytona pre-season testing Reviewed by Rebecca Kivak on Wednesday, January 11, 2012 Rating: 5