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Parity in NASCAR? Here are the stats. You decide

  Legendary crew chief Greg Zipadelli (R): "Real tires on the real tracks" (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern  

   Scott Miller, now head of competition for Richard Childress' four-team operation says he likes the idea: for NASCAR to reopen the door, just a little.
   Eddie Wood, the second-generation leader of the legendary Wood brothers' team, says he's not so sure.
   But car owner Jack Roush says it's time for NASCAR reverse course and open it up full-bore again...with a twist.
   What it is is testing.
   How to do it.
   Where to do it.
   Whether to do it.
   And how much does it cost.
   Then again, how much does it cost not to test….
   For NASCAR and its weekly 'show' and its track promoters and TV partners, as well as for the teams as businesses themselves.
   It's a balancing act, to be sure -- one judged as much by TV ratings and empty seats in the stands as by bottom line budgets.
   Greg Zipadelli, Tony Stewart's championship crew chief for 10 years, says simply that testing at the 'real' NASCAR tracks with the 'real' racing Goodyears is the best, cheapest way to learn – and to catch-up if you're behind.
   But this season NASCAR has shut everything down. Or tried to.
   How well has that worked out?
   How much money has that saved?
   How much has that improved the Sunday shows?
   How much has that boosted TV ratings and ticket sales?

  Crew chief, now RCR competition director, Scott Miller: open up Richmond and Charlotte (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Well, clearly this year everyone is way behind the Rick Hendrick bunch, so it would seem that NASCAR's current testing policies haven't done much to equalize the playing field.
   Hendrick's teams and satellite operations have won 17 of the year's 31 tour events. That one operation has won 55 percent of the races. Jimmie Johnson has won three of the first five playoff events, and either he or a Hendrick teammate will likely win Sunday's Martinsville 500. Teammate Mark Martin won Phoenix in the spring, and if Hendrick wins there in a couple of weeks, and if a Hendrick team – likely – wins Texas too, that one camp would have won 20 races this season.
   Meanwhile some top team owners are still winless, like Richard Childress and Chip Ganassi. Only Joe Gibbs, with seven wins, has been able to do much this season besides Hendrick.
   The only 'real' testing that goes on on 'real' NASCAR tracks this season is by teams invited by Goodyear to its tire tests. There have been 20 such tests so far, and there are complaints by smaller teams that they are not given equal opportunity to run those precious few tests. A typical test gives each (of the four teams that week) a full day to shake down its car and prepare for the next day's rubber test. That's 'free' testing, that everyone is not privy to. Invitation only.
   NASCAR says every manufacturer gets the Goodyear data, to distribute to its teams. However that's no substitute for being able to change shocks and springs and bump-stops at the track and learn something. Check out this story and consider who gets the advantage in all this:   http://bit.ly/1PoC6E

  Car owner Eddie Wood sees both sides of the picture, but his team has been forced to cut back to a part-time schedule, because of sponsorship, so he's got a bottom line to consider (Photo: Autostock)

   The multi-car teams can share all that data on shocks and springs, but smaller operations – like the Woods and Robby Gordon, both one-man teams – don't get any of that data to share. For example, when Jimmie Johnson goes to a tire test, teammates Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and probably Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman all have access to the chassis-and-aero data from that 'free' test day. When Bill Elliott and the Woods test, they've got what they can get, and that's it. And then Elliott and the Woods have only been to that mass Indianapolis test this season; that's the only Goodyear test they were invited to.
   You decide.
   Two more points:
   Kentucky Speedway was for several years a highly desired test track for NASCAR teams, but NASCAR, which is still involved in that lawsuit, has nixed anyone using the Kentucky track anymore. So some have tried two-mile, lightning-fast Texas World Speedway..though it's more than 1,000 miles away from the sport's Charlotte base.
   But NASCAR can't stop teams from testing at non-NASCAR tracks, so frequently high-buck teams load up and fly/truck to places like Florida's New Smyrna and other long-distance tracks for testing.
   Cost-cutting? Hardly. Plus, those tests now are secret. How much anyone tests, where anyone tests, it's all under the table.
   Time to change, according to Roush. "I think an unrestricted testing program would be wise," Roush says. "The way testing ought to be done is for NASCAR to open these tour tracks a day early, and give each team a certain number of 'vouchers' (for testing days), from five to 15, so a team could decide where it wanted to test...and just be at the track a day earlier. The people are already there, the cars are already there, the equipment is all there. And you wouldn't have people chasing all over the country (flying), burning all this gas in these planes to do these clandestine tests.
   "That would eliminate a lot of the unfairness."

  Indiana Jones? No, just car owner Jack Roush reading sparkplugs. He may be doing a lot of that once that new Ford FR9 engine comes on line (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Daytona, with the Daytona 500, is just around the corner…and for just about everyone except the few teams remaining in the championship chase it's already 2010, in terms of planning and shakeups and all that.
   The Jack Roush operation, for example, is gearing up for its first on-track runs with the new FR9 engine, which has been shrouded in considerable mystery since its public unveiling back in January.
   And Childress has been shaking up his management operation for several weeks now, the latest – moving veteran crew chief Todd Berrier from the still-up-in-the-air Casey Mears team to the Cat-solid Jeff Burton team, taking Miller's spot in the driver's seat there.
   Chip Ganassi is making new plans for 2010 too, when he loses Martin Truex Jr. (up front here for Sunday's 500) as Juan Pablo Montoya's teammate and likely adds Jamie McMurray. Ganassi, a Dodge man since joining the tour, switched to Chevrolet this season when he merged with the remnants of Teresa Earnhardt's once-four-team DEI, but it's still unclear if Chevrolet will re-up with Ganassi (Montoya is clearly the key here).
   And the George Gillett-Richard Petty operation, which has made headlines all season, but not always for the right reasons, is gearing up to run its first Ford, this week at Talladega, with Elliott Sadler in one of the Doug Yates/Roush cars. Just where that merger stands at the moment is unclear.
   All these new cars, new rides, new drivers, new crew chiefs…gee, it sure would be nice to get some of these operations out on some real NASCAR Sprint Cup tracks with the real racing Goodyears and get things sorted out before the new season kicks off….wouldn't it?
    You'd think so.
    And you'd think that track promoters, who are really under the gun to get fans in the stands, would like some NASCAR test sessions as PR material to help sell tickets. Heck, even Daytona last summer simply closed the entire backstretch grandstands because it couldn't sell enough tickets
    Would more open testing -- coupled with autograph sessions and PR appearances -- at tour tracks, like LA's Auto Club Speedway, help boost ticket sales too, and put more fans in these stands? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
    So it would seem rather obvious that this season's 'no-testing' rule has been something of a flop, on several points.
    NASCAR nixed all track testing this season at Sprint Cup tour tracks, ostensibly a cost-cutting measure. That rule, when announced late last year, was a sudden reversal from what the sanctioning body had originally planned for 2009 – something like a 24-test-day book of 'chits' that teams could generally use at whichever NASCAR Cup tour speedways they want to.
   For several years NASCAR's testing policy was that teams were allowed to run in the seven full, two-day 'organized' tests at certain major tour tracks, like Indianapolis, California, Las Vegas….
   How much actual solid data teams got from these tests may be debatable, but getting some of the 'teamwork' down was probably invaluable.
   Consider this: here Friday Cup teams were given one 90-minute practice session before qualifying, and on Saturday a 1:45 final pre-race practice session (which in fact was rained out). Could you and your crew work everything out that quickly? If you were new to the sport?
   So teams, the big, wealthy teams at least, still test. It's just that no one really knows where. They fly to some secret track and workout.
   And they run major league computer simulations.
   And you still think you want to try to make a go of it here as a fledgling new team owner?
   But then the men who have invested heavily in teams in this sport aren't that enthusiastic about more competition rolling in the gates, of course.
  Here's a modest proposal, which Miller, for one, likes: open up both Richmond International Raceway and Charlotte's Lowe's Motor Speedway for testing, any time teams want to test. One track is owned by the France family, the other by rival Bruton Smith; so it's parity on that political front.

  It takes a lot of Goodyears to run a NASCAR race...and it takes a lot of testing to come up with the right Goodyears. But are Goodyear tire tests this year proving a boon to some teams? Should Goodyear have its own dedicated tire testing team? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Eddie Wood's team, running only a part-time schedule the season (sponsorship issues), hasn't been invited to any of the tire tests this season, except for the Indianapolis test, to which all the tour teams were invited (in the wake of last year's snafu there). And that puts him and driver Bill Elliott and crew chief Dave Hyder at a disadvantage. But Wood still doesn't want to see NASCAR open up testing.
   "We were part of the Indy test, but we were just the 'rubber-up' guys (rubbering in the track, in preparation for others to run the real tire test)," Wood says. "But that was good for us, because we got to work on our car. You don't know which
   "You just go where you're invited to go. And not running all the races we don't get invited."
    So open up testing, somehow? "Right now with the economy the way it is, the less testing the better," Wood says. "If they could lock it all down to where you couldn't do anything, that'd be okay with us."
     Still, Wood points out nothing beats putting one of these cars out on one of these real NASCAR tour tracks with the real racing Goodyears. (And Goodyear says it's cranked up and ready to go, if NASCAR wants to reopen testing.)

  Sure, Charlotte's Lowe's Motor Speedway might not be perfect for testing, but it's close to all the shops, and good enough. Why NASCAR won't let teams test here is rather mystifying. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "You've got all these computer simulation programs, but you still have to tire-test…because it's still where the rubber meets the road," Wood says.
   "And Goodyear has done a good job this year."
   Indeed it has.
   Unfortunately it looks like only two teams have really benefited.
   Roush: "The testing policy is left to Goodyear's administration and NASCAR's oversight, and it is potentially unfair.
  "The best situation would have nobody test the tires at the tracks but for Goodyear to have its own test driver and test team, so that nobody would have an advantage.
  "At Dover (the second race of the championship playoffs, won by Jimmie Johnson three weeks ago), the Hendrick guys got to test at that track on the 'right' tire. So they had the advantage of knowing to expect from it. So they were better able to make a decision early-on about what shocks to use and what bump-stops.
  "We didn't have a chance to do that.
  "Whenever you give a team and a driver that tire at that track, they're going to have an advantage over everybody else, because there is no way to off-set experience on the track and experience on the right tire."
  Jimmie Johnson, who tested for Goodyear at Dover, won that race and led 271 of the 400 laps.
  Look at these stats:
    In laps led this season, Jimmie Johnson alone has led more than 20 percent (1,808 laps). That's almost twice as many as the next man, Denny Hamlin (1,090 laps led). Johnson and his teammates have led nearly 4,000 laps this season. To put that in even sharper perspective, Jack Roush's Ford men have yet to hit the 1,000 laps-led mark. And Richard Childress' men? They've led a total of just 188 laps over the nine months of the season.

   If testing is filled with politics, then why not allow open Cup testing at Richmond International Raceway, owned by the France family, as well as Bruton Smith's Charlotte speedway. The two tracks are close enough to team shops that testing would be relatively inexpensive...cheaper than flying halfway across the country to some secret track. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  So is it time for NASCAR to open up testing again, and let these teams put cars out on the real tracks with real tires?
   Or just continue the secret stuff?
   Open up testing? "Oh, no," Wood says. "I think that would break us. It would probably break everybody.
   "That thing just gets out of hand, because there's so much that goes into a test these days that you don't even realize. Like all the preparation."
   Most top teams in fact have full-time testing operations, full test-haulers and all.
   "Say you're racing in California on Sunday, then have a test scheduled somewhere Tuesday, and then you've got to be at the next tour track on Thursday," Wood says, pointing out the grind, and the need for more people just to handle all that.
   "The whole thing can get out of hand so quickly.
   "So the way they're doing it right now is good, I think."
   But then Wood is looking at his bottom line and that personal struggle to make ends meet.
   The sport's bosses certainly have to consider that, but also the quality and parity of the Sunday's shows. And NASCAR's bottom line at the moment features too many empty seats and still slumping TV ratings.
   So will NASCAR execs change anything up for 2010?
   That's the big question. Because more of the same-old same-old will probably beget just more of the same-old same-old.

    Jack Roush (R, with Carl Edwards) would be smiling a lot more if his teams were winning a lot more (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Mike, I wrote over a year ago

Mike, I wrote over a year ago about how NASCAR and Goodyear should handle tire testing http://racinrumors.com/?p=11 I also strongly support allowing telemetry to be run during practice on race weekends if not in the race itself. Most teams already own the equipment and it's collecting dust The COT has handcuffed crew chiefs on limited budgets and left drivers afraid to make changes on race day for fear of making it worse. I doubt anything will slow the Hendrick steamroller but the teams and fans would like to hope a top 20 car has a chance to be a top 10 car without breaking the bank. I'm not holding my breath!

Let me go ask Goodyear some

Let me go ask Goodyear some more questions.....and let me ponder that telemetry thing -- dont see how it could make things any worse...


Asking teams to put on a good show every week without testing is like expecting actors and stage hands to put on a Broadway show without rehearsal in the theater. It's actually amazing the show now is as good as it is.

One more day?

I like the idea of opening a couple nearby tracks for open testing, but I would prefer to see each track open a day early for open testing. I think the track owners would like another day to sell tickets & hot dogs. The teams might not like the shortened week between races, but it would give everyone an even chance to test under the same conditions for the cost of another day's hotel and food bill. Start-n-parks would likely opt out citing equipment/manpower costs, but those interested in taking the next step would be one step closer to a level playing field with the big boys.

Wood Brothers were done years ago

Sorry about the famous Woods but they failed to do any serious testing when it was legal and that is one reason why they are not competitive today. Let's face it no one in the stands really cares whether they are in the "show" or not. In fact they only ran in about 9 races this year so why are they considered for input anyway? Eddie Wood says if they test they are done, well heres a newsflash, they were done about 6 years ago. As in any business the best got better and the ones without planning or foresight found something else to do. Sadly the Woods fall in the second classification.
Hendrick teams are stinking up the show and unless you are a Hendrick fan you are going to lose interest fast, just look at the attendance and TV ratings. Nascar has to create parity. There are only four team owners Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs and Childress. These four control the show within Nascar's envelope.

Woods Were Priced Out Of The Game

The most despicable fans are the ones who smugly take the view that teams like the Wood Brothers "failed to do any serious testing when it was legal and that is one reason why they are not competitive today," forgetting that they were competitive in the 1990s, the first decade of testing restrictions. The testing limits ultimately did hurt, but the bigger issue is the sport's economics priced them and a lot of others out of the game. It wasn't "the best got better," it was the wealthiest were able to get better because the economics wouldn't let the others get better.

High Downforce & Tire Competition

The last time NASCAR had competitive depth was 2001-2, when the cars had very high downforce and hard tires - there were 26 winners among 14 teams. Other times NASCAR had real competitive depth was in the tire-war seasons - every time Hoosier came in the number of winning drivers and teams increased markedly.

NASCAR never needed the COT or the ridiculous exclusive contract with Goodyear, especially now with new revenue streams needed - keeping out Firestone and Hoosier is denying the sport some much-needed revenue and engineering for more teams.

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