Ford's 2013 NASCAR stocker....finally ready to rumble?
By Mike Mulhern
You want a break from this NASCAR marathon?
No such luck. Not any time soon.
The sport's 12 championship playoff drivers are ticketed next week for a whirlwind media tour around the country.
Jimmie Johnson is penciled in for a New York City gig between the Richmond 400 and when Chicagoland Speedway opens for next weekend's Chicago 400. Kevin Harvick will hit the Talladega-Alabama market.
And teams will getting even more time on the road this fall, with a series of high-profile track tests:
NASCAR's 2013 project, for the new stocker that is to make its official Sprint Cup debut in February's Daytona 500, is moving along more rapidly, with major track tests set for the coming weeks. And every team is invited.
However teams here say Detroit car makers have yet to release any of the 2013 steel body sheet metal. So crew chiefs say the upcoming tests could be all but meaningless, since drivers will be driving cars with plastic-molded bodies, with much different center-of-gravity than the real race cars will have.
"Detroit, and that whole 2013 project, is way behind," one top crew chief says. "So at those tests, we'll all be running just 'show cars'"
-- Talladega SuperSpeedway will host a big 2013 car test Oct. 3rd, the day before that track opens for the Talladega 500 chase race.
That will be a good look at what to expect in next season's Daytona 500 (Feb. 24th). Tires are not expected to be an issue at either Talladega or Daytona with the new 2013s.
-- Texas Motor Speedway will have a big two-day test Oct. 9th and 10th, which will be a key test for the sport's nine mid-sized tracks, a test of both tires and aerodynamics.
-- Phoenix International Raceway (just repaved) will have a big two-day test Oct. 24th and 25th, another test of both tires and aero.
-- And there will be a major tire design test at Charlotte Motor Speedway Nov. 6th and 7th. Goodyear will be testing 'fundamentals' at Charlotte, in a wide-ranging session.
On top of that, the various car makers are expected to be conducting their own tests of the 2013s this fall too.
Tires for individual team tests at other tracks, for aerodynamic studies, are typically on Talladega tires, because minimum rolling resistance is more important in those tests.
Speaking of projects, how Travis Pastrana faring? After eight Nationwide races for Toyota's Michael Waltrip this season (13th at Indy his best finish), now he's with Ford's Jack Roush. Friday night's NNS race here was ostensibly a one-race deal, a tryout. But Ford execs are excited about the prospect of signing Pastrana. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
NASCAR's playoffs may not be a Jimmie Johnson rout after all, in the wake of a curious new rule seemingly aimed at taking away one of Johnson's hot chassis tracks.
Dodge's veteran engineer Howard Comstock's take on the Johnson rear-suspension controversy is pretty simple:
"My thoughts are that if you were involved in what some of the teams were engaging in, and NASCAR took that away from you, it's a big deal.
"If you stayed the course and stuck to what you knew was completely within the rules, I think you're going to be better off going to Chicago next week (for the championship chase kickoff) because the teams that have been fooling with that stuff now have to go back to what everybody else has been using. They missed the entire last half of the summer in what I’ll call traditional chassis development because they were depending on the trick that they had.
"Now that NASCAR has once again leveled the playing field, we'll see who's got the best stuff."
The intrigue behind the Jimmie Johnson 'trick piece' -- technology which seems to have been working remarkably successfully since May -- is quite interesting.
"I don't see how the piece was ever legal to begin with, from my reading of the rulebook," one top team engineer says. "Every team in the garage has its own version of that piece. But most have not been brave enough to try to use it."
One top crew chief suggests that when the part in question was originally submitted to NASCAR and approved, NASCAR was not told specifically how it would be used. "If they'd told NASCAR what it was to be used for, I don't think that NASCAR would have approved it," he said.
What the trick part apparently does is 'skew' the rear end of the car so it turns better in the corner. Think 'crab walking' down the straights.
What the trick does is apparently take advantage of the fact that NASCAR -- until last week at Atlanta -- did not inspect the rear-ends for such skew in post-race inspections. So a car would have 'legal' skew during pre-race inspection, but once the driver gunned the car onto the track, the trick would lock a 'better' skew into place. (NASCAR did a similar post-race examination at Dover in early June, but that went unnoticed, and apparently uneventful.)
There has been no word from NASCAR if any of the cars examined post-race at Atlanta 'failed' to meet 'skew' rules.
It is not a new trick, by any means. It's at least 30 years olds, maybe older.
Then at Atlanta, four weeks after the controversy erupted, NASCAR's post-race inspectors at Atlanta conducted detailed examininations of a number of cars. And three days later the new rules bulletin was announced, banning the trick effective next week in the Chicago 400.
The entire situation over the specific Johnson part has raised questions in some team haulers here about NASCAR's general parts approval process, which has become much more secretive over the past few years, for some reason.
And, uh, that 2013 NASCAR Dodge: now obsolete (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Meanwhile, the latest update on the Richard Petty 2013 situation is, well, still murky.
Nobody on the team is willing to talk on the record.
But at the moment there is speculation about a potential deal between the Petty operation and the Richard Childress Chevrolet operation. Childress has one of the sport's only four major engine building departments, which would be key to any Petty-Childress deal.
However Chevrolet already has 12 factory drivers, and it is unclear if General Motors execs would be that interested in adding two more teams.
Petty's two drivers, Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola, are both on the hot seat, it appears, though both men would like to stay with the Petty team.