McReynolds, Waltrip Debate Challenges Facing Teams at Daytona Test
With less than 72 hours remaining until the 2013 Sprint Cup Series officially kicks off with Preseason Thunder from Daytona International Speedway Thursday at 9 a.m. ET, teams continue their feverish scramble. But they’re readying their new race cars for the three-day test session amidst several unknowns.
Below, NASCAR on FOX and SPEED analysts Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip, who will call the action for SPEED during the network’s live afternoon coverage of the test session Thursday-Saturday (1-3 p.m. ET and 3-5 p.m. ET), discuss the multiple challenges facing teams as they prepare these new-model race cars.
SPEED and SPEED.com offer live coverage of the three-day test session in its entirety with SPEED live from all afternoon sessions (1-3 p.m. ET and 3-5 p.m. ET) and SPEED.com streaming all morning sessions (9 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET).
Q: How do the uncertainties facing teams in 2013 with regard to the new car compare to other seasons?
Waltrip: “This new car will be the biggest challenge teams have faced in probably six or seven years because of the way the car will be set up. It’s a totally different body style. Those are huge changes for teams. Although it’s been tested, we won’t see this car in true competition until we get to the Daytona 500, so all this testing is critical in order come up with a package that will produce the racing everyone is so anxious to see.”
Q: Given the current unknowns with the new race car, how will teams prepare for and negotiate the unknowns at the test?
McReynolds: “If you think teams and NASCAR are behind now, look back at when we made the transition from the third-generation car to the fourth-generation car heading into the 1981 season. That was a major change – a lot like the swap to the Car of Tomorrow in 2007. Parts and pieces for that car were so scarce and everyone was so far behind that when we went to the first race of the year at Riverside, NASCAR gave us the option to run the old or the new car. At Daytona one month later, our second race, everyone was forced to run the new car. Just when you think things are bleak for teams right now, take a peek back in history.”
Q: Why the unknowns and why is everyone so behind with regard to the new race car so close to the beginning of the season?
McReynolds: “One reason things seemingly are a little behind is because NASCAR learned from the mistakes they made with the COT when they brought it in halfway through the 2007 season, and they’ve worked hard on this new car to give it more brand identity, which was the whole reason behind this switch in the beginning. They wanted to give Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet their identities back. When I was with Robert Yates in the ‘90s, you’d look out in the grandstands and there was that guy with a Ford jacket, Ford cooler, Ford t-shirt and Ford hat, and he didn’t care if it was Davey Allison, Sterling Marlin, Alan Kulwicki or Bill Elliott driving. He just wanted a Ford to win because he was a Ford guy. If Bill Elliott left Ford and moved to another manufacturer camp, then it was ‘to hell with him’ because Bill wasn’t a Ford driver anymore. We have lost that identity and I don’t know if we’ll ever achieve it again to that extent, but NASCAR has worked hard so fans can recognize a Chevy, Ford and Toyota even without their decals.
“Another thing NASCAR has worked thoroughly on is making the cars race better, and that endeavor has taken a long time to dot the Is and cross the Ts. That’s one of the reasons teams went to the Charlotte test. And NASCAR is encouraging teams to draft as much as possible during the Daytona test. Then they’ll go back to Charlotte later in the month, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another test someplace else before the season starts.
“While everyone seemingly is behind and scrambling to put cars together and get to Daytona, and they are, there are reasons for it -- to make sure we have brand identity, which was the method to the madness in this project -- and to keep that level playing field. I know people hate that saying, but as a crew chief, I lived through the years of rolling into a new season, of rolling into Daytona, and getting our butts kicked because another manufacturer was superior. We went to Vegas with a Chevrolet Monte Carlo and trying to race it against that Ford Taurus was like trying to take a knife to a gunfight. We didn’t stand a chance. NASCAR is trying hard not to slip back into that era because it wasn’t a lot of fun. It was a load of fun if you had the right make, but it was miserable with the wrong make. They’re trying to get these cars back to where a driver can make the pass if he or she runs down another car.”
Q: How adaptable and reactive do you think NASCAR will be during the test to possible changes and tweaks to the cars and rules package?
McReynolds: “The test will be a work in progress for NASCAR, the teams and the drivers. I’d love to say we will roll in there and everything will be outstanding with the car with no changes or modifications needed, but there is no way that will happen. We’ll possibly see NASCAR make small tweaks every day, if not every day during the lunch break and then again at the end of the day.”
Q: What, if anything, can teams learn about the new car at the Daytona test beyond what they’ll use in the restrictor-plate races?
McReynolds: “Daytona and Talladega stand by themselves because of the grip level at those tracks, the track size and rules package, so it’s going to be difficult to glean anything from this test that will bleed over to Phoenix, Vegas or California. Teams may hit on some stuff aero-wise that they can add to their ‘to-try’ list at those tracks, but Daytona and Talladega, whether with the COT or this new car, stand alone for several reasons.”
Q: What is the biggest thing you’ll be watching for during the Daytona test?
Waltrip: “I’m interested to see how NASCAR will respond to the people complaining about the cars being too fast. Are we going to let them run at Daytona and Talladega like we did last year? Are we going to let them run over 200 miles-per-hour or are we going to see NASCAR slow the cars down to the point the racing won’t be as good at those big tracks? We need those fast speeds at Daytona and Talladega to put on a good show.
“Maybe some of the mile-and-a-half track races would be better if the car was slower, but at Daytona, Talladega, California and Michigan, they need to go fast. Those tracks were designed for cars to run 200 miles-per-hour or more. So, when I go to the superspeedways, I want to see super-fast speeds. At some of the intermediate and smaller tracks, I could buy into some sort of reduction in horsepower to slow the cars down.
“Additionally, with the new rules, there are no guarantees these cars will be equal. They’ve been tested in the wind tunnel and they’ve been aerodynamically matched up the best they can, but there is no guarantee they’ll all be equal and no one will have an advantage. When you look at the variances in the bodies this year compared to what they’ve been in the past, one manufacturer could wind up with a huge advantage at Daytona, and that’s something NASCAR will be keeping an eye on.”
Q: What will teams be working on the most this week?
McReynolds: “It’s going to be twofold and no different than any other test there. They’ll be looking for speed and what will make them faster. We might see more drafting this year than in years past at this test. NASCAR even has adjusted the track schedule to encourage drafting. In the past, the morning sessions were for single-car runs and the afternoon was more for drafting. The schedule for this week indicates drafting for both the morning and afternoon sessions each of the three days. There will be plenty of single-car runs the first day, but I think we’ll see them draft more to learn about the aero and the cooling and all those things we focus on there. How will the car react behind or in front of another car? How long can they push another car? It will be a lot of the same agenda, but there will be more emphasis on drafting and how the car acts in traffic.
“Look back at the last two or three January tests. Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus never got in a pack to draft. They made all single-car runs all three days. I’ll be anxious to see if they change their philosophy and do some drafting this week in search of that information no one has yet.”
Waltrip: “Teams can verify what they already know. They’ll take setups and notes from last year’s car and start to apply them and see if they’re applicable or not. They have to find out if there are things from the old car that will work on this one. You go through the process of elimination of things you’ve done in the past to make your car good at Daytona. Do we have to come up with something totally new to get the speed out of the car we got from the old car?
“Teams will go through a number of verifications on the car to see what it likes and doesn’t like. There will be a lot of ‘A-B-A’ testing, a lot of trial and error, in which you try one thing, try something else and go back to what you started with. But the unknowns are a lot easier to overcome because technology has come so far with the data collected from the cars. The crew chiefs and engineers may discover things about the car that they didn’t know before and something that just might make some of the unknowns a little easier to navigate.
“Last year before the test, the biggest challenge teams faced was the electronic fuel injection and the question of what type of racing we were going to see at Daytona -- whether drivers were going to push each other or not. It is bigger than that this year. Electronic fuel injection turned out to be a non-issue and by the time we get to the Daytona 500, things we currently think could be problems with this new car probably will be non-issues. That’s how good the teams are at problem-solving. One thing NASCAR relies on is the ability of the teams to take whatever NASCAR gives them and improve on it. It might necessarily be perfect when they give it to them, but it will be by the time we’re ready to race.”