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Is NASCAR testing
itself to death?
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Burned out. Fatigued. Divorced. Walking zombies. Sound like a Winston Cup crewmember? It is. The core people who make NASCAR race cars run so the fans can enjoy the spectacle are the very ones who have so little to say about the demands imposed on them by the demanding yearlong grind of Winston Cup racing. And to make matters worse, next year the NASCAR Winston Cup teams will face a more grueling 38-race schedule (36 plus the non-point fan favorites Bud Shootout and the Winston). New races have been added for the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois and Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
Have the crewmembers reached the end of their rope? As in any occupation where fatigue can lead to mistakes, will a fatigued crewmember make a mistake that will cost a driver his life? Did fatigue cause the stuck throttles on Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr's cars? Probably not in this case, but I'm certain that some deaths over the years can be contributed to fatigue and whose to say it could not happen in the future.
As the Winston Cup teams trek from venue to venue, test dates are scattered across the Winston Cup schedule in a varied array of dates and locations. NASCAR rules allow every team 7 test sessions at different Winston Cup venues, three of which are mandated to be at Daytona, Charlotte and Indianapolis. The teams are free to choose the other Winston Cup venues at which to test. A typical NASCAR test session is 2 to 3 days. They also are allowed unlimited testing dates at facilities not visited by the Winston Cup tour. With breaks in the schedule for Easter, Mothers Day and possibly one open weekend during the summer, the Winston Cup teams will be on the road for a span of 41 weeks next year. With new speedways being built across the country, the want and desire for a Winston Cup race date is immense, and it will only increase. This makes for one incredibly long and exhausting season of racing for the teams. And of course the longer a season is, the more expensive it becomes, to the teams and ultimately to the fans.
Looking at solutions, one simple approach would be to eliminate in-season testing altogether. It's possible that NASCAR could learn a lesson from CART in this regard.
CART recently adopted a new set of rules for testing during the 2001 race season. The new testing regulations eliminate in-season testing for CART teams starting next year. In the off-season, a maximum of 20 days of testing would be allowed for a two-car team. Current rules provide 36 test days per season, of which 20 could be run in-season. Single car teams will be allowed 14 test days, a reduction from 24. Special exceptions will be applied for circumstances such as driver injuries, or special tire or engine tests, which will be managed under the direction of CART.
Another important change CART implemented was the elimination of Friday Qualifying. Friday will now be strictly a practice day, with qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday. There will be a lot of practice time allotted on Friday for teams to find the right setup. The philosophy behind this is simple - if you bring the whole 'circus' to town for a 3-day weekend, accomplish as much as possible during that time-period, rather than have a team trek out to that same race track a few weeks in advance to work on setup so they are ready to win the pole on Friday of race weekend. CART runs at each venue only once per year, their cars are far more sophisticated to setup, and their cars undergo significant design changes from year-to-year. It is beyond us why a Winston Cup team that visits each venue twice per year, and operates with far less sophisticated equipment than a CART Champ Car, needs to test at all during the race season. If team #1 tests, then team #2 has to test, and so forth. It's a vicious cycle.
Why should NASCAR put an end to in season testing? Let's look at the reasons.
Is NASCAR testing itself to death? Is it time to reduce NASCAR Winston Cup testing? Is so much testing really needed? We suggest NASCAR follow CART's lead and eliminate in-season testing and make Friday's a practice/testing day.
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