Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Rookie Stripe: What Happens When a Car Wrecks in Practice?

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
The more you sweat in practice, the less you'll bleed in combat, right?

NASCAR practices, held on site at tracks in the days just before each race, are short, hot, fast and fraught with adrenaline. They may only race a few laps at a time during practice, but warriors are in their element, preparing for the final countdown. Drivers may lose control, jump a groove or encounter some other happenstance that causes them to wreck their cars. While wrecks don’t happen in practice every week, they’re common enough that most teams label them detrimental, but not outright devastating, to a race.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Teams are required by NASCAR to use one stock car from the time practice begins during a race week at a track until the conclusion of the race. So if a driver wrecks a primary car during practice, he or she will use the backup car instead. Haulers are designed to carry two cars in the upper compartment of the transporter, which sits just above the team work area. If the second car is needed, the lift gate is lowered to bring it down, and the wrecked car is stored in that same area.

But pump those brakes … it’s not quite that easy. If a driver has to use his or her backup car in a race, the penalty is starting at the rear of the field in the running order for race day. Through precise strategy and teamwork, a driver starting at the rear can move up through the field, but it requires steady, tenaciousness work to get to the front and contend for a win. Switching to a backup car can be nearly ruinous for a driver during the Chase for the Sprint Cup, depending on his points standing. Austin Dillon’s wreck in practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September 2016 was costly, and while it didn’t eliminate him right away, he was cut from the Chase after the Round of 12.


Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Remember when we said most teams aren't devastated by a wreck in practice because they can go to their backup cars? That's true for most teams, but not all of them. NASCAR team costs are exorbitant, and for the smaller, lesser-funded teams, many times a backup car is not an option. They may be running the only car they have, and if it wrecks … well, they’re just out of luck.

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