By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
INSIDE THE CHASE
Testing is a uniquely important facet of auto racing.
Whereas sports teams powered by humans can be assured that each stadium will provide a fairly uniform playing field - even considering the different dimensions of baseball parks - race teams face an ever-changing set of variables.
Advances in engine technology, changes to tire compounds, the length of spoilers and even weather's impact on asphalt greatly affect how a car will preform at a given track. And in NASCAR, tracks range in size from the 0.526 miles of Martinsville to the 2.66-mile expanse of Talladega, paved with asphalt or concrete, with myriad different degrees of banking.
There is no standard 100-yard field to be found.
Therefore race teams practice or "test" at tracks to ascertain how the combinations of setups, springs, etc., they devised in the shop perform. Cars make lap after lap alone or alongside another team that has rented the facility, gauging fuel mileage and tire wear and cataloging every detail on computers to analyze later.
In an attempt to keep larger teams from gaining an unfair advantage, NASCAR limits each car to five two-day tests and four single-day tests at tracks that host Nextel Cup events. (Rookies get slightly more tests.) Because large organizations can canvass the 22-track Nextel Cup circuit as individual teams and pool information, changes could be made next year to restrict testing further.
Currently, teams can test as much as they wish at nonevent tracks such as the popular Kentucky Speedway or USA International Speedway in Lakeland.
With nine races left in the Chase for the Championship, several teams, such as those of champion Kurt Busch and runnerup Jimmie Johnson, have tests squirreled away to get the freshest data possible on upcoming tracks.
"I'm looking forward to many tests at the mile-and-a-halves because those dominate the Chase races this year," Busch said.