Wednesday, January 30, 2008

More pre season fun!

I had a great weekend. It was good watching cars go fast on television again. It didn't quite bring the satisfaction five-hundred miles of beatin' and bangin' brings us, but it was racing and it did bring some thrills, to break what seems like the longest 11 week off-season ever. We should be happy we aren't football fans, because eleven weeks is actually the shortest off season of any professional sport.
The Rolex Grand American Series 24 Hours at Daytona isn't, in reality, a NASCAR event, but most race fans are familiar with the names of some of the drivers, and the sights and sounds are a nice break in the tedium of off season.
There were some records broken. Team Ganassi chalked up an unprecedented third straight victory in the event, with the #01 drivers team of Memo Rojas, Dario Franchitti, Juan Paul Montoya, and Scott Pruett, each an excellent and experienced driver in his own field. Due partly to the weather, partly to mechanical failure, and partly to the advanced level of competition, the attrition rate was high, and the #01 car crossed the finish line two laps ahead of the closest competitor, the #99 team of Jimmie Johnson, Alex Gurney (the son of racing legend Dan Gurney), Jimmy Vasser, and Jon Fogarty. Fogarty and Gurney were the Rolex Series Champions at the end of last year's season.
There were 23 caution flags, and 16 lead changes, both new records.
Daytona testing didn't tell us a whole lot about the new (CoT) Formula N cars. Just that the engines were working good, and maybe working with wedge, trackbar, and alignment adjustments to find that comfort spot for the drivers. Everything else is mandated by NASCAR to be the same for every team at Daytona. But now, at Vegas, there are a few more things the teams can work with. There is much more the Crew Chiefs can do as far as aerodynamics adjustments go than they could do at Daytona. As explained very well by Larry McReynolds on Speed TV, the rear wing and the struts that support it can be adjusted in several ways, in addition to changing the shape of the struts. Plus the front splitter is adjustable, to change the downforce on the front end, as well as the suspension adjustments that couldn't be done at Daytona.
So, once everyone found out how the track and the tires worked, they went to work on set ups and experiments.
Some of the experiments obviously failed, as both Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton had equipment failures in the front suspension and crashed, leaving their teams with only one car for California testing Thursday and Friday. David Regan's crew chief accepted responsibility for a loose condition he set up in his driver's car.
This brings up a point about the new Formula N car that may not have been forseen in the developmental stages. The car was supposed to make racing affordable by all the teams, but it seems that nobody can afford to wreck one.

"The car that Jeff [Burton] crashed is junk -- it'll be easier to replace it than it would be to put it back together," (RCR crew chief Gil) Martin said. "Anyone who thinks these cars will be able to take a beating better than the [standard cars] is kidding themselves.

"With the [chassis] recertification process and the tolerances we have to meet, it's easier and cheaper to just build a new one than to go to the effort of repairing one."
It also seems that the car that was supposed to allow the teams to use the same car for everything from road courses to the superspeedways does not actually exist. In a article from California Speedway, Kevin Harvick answered a question pertaining to the multi usefulness of the new Formula N car.
When he was asked during Thursday's lunch break at California Speedway if the chassis that Sprint Cup teams must use this season will enable organizations to use the same cars at different tracks, Kevin Harvick said yes, but only to a point.
"With these cars, you could use the same thing from a track like Bristol [short track] to here at California [intermediate, downforce track]," Harvick said. "We're using the same cars we had at Las Vegas, with minor setup changes.
"As far as the other tracks, we'll always have road-course cars and we'll always have speedway cars [for Daytona and Talladega]. But the interesting thing is, one of the cars we have here is the center section from one of last year's road-course cars, with new front and rear clips."
Dave Rodman, NASCAR.COM

But we should remember that a similar situation came in play in the Rolex Grand Am Series in 2003 with the introduction of the Daytona Prototype (DP) car. As pointed out by Charlie Turner, of Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie--in an excellent article, by the way--the DP was suppose to be a safer and less expensive alternative for the teams than the purpose built sports cars that were being used in the series at the time. There were complaints and widespread non-acceptence, but after four years, the DP has made its own history. Perhaps this tells us we need to give the Formula N car a little more time.
So the experiments at Las Vegas testing resulted in the conclusion of "we know we better not do that again"
Once this week of testing is over, there is nothing left to do but begin the exciting, or, at least, much anticipated 2008 season. The Bud Shootout is a little more than a week away, with nothing in between now and then. Unless you want to watch that thing called the Daytona 500 of Professional Football, which I, personally can't get excited about. If they could only make the players about 3000 lbs heavier and 160 mph faster, maybe they could get me to watch.
Well I have rambled on enough now. This was supposed to have been posted by Tuesday at the latest, but it wasn't so I kept adding to it until I got this mess. Thank you all for bearing with me.

Friday, January 25, 2008

We're nearly there!

Are we ready for racing? I am, and there will be some real racing on television this coming weekend. The Rolex Grand Am Series 24 Hours at Daytona kicks off Saturday on Fox at 1 P.M.
"Why," you very well may ask, "should I be interested in sports car racing?"
My first answer would be that it is racing. It might not be the high speed bumpin' and bangin' that thrills us in the NASCAR races, but it still gives us a taste of some of that.
It really does amaze me how the drivers in both the Daytona Prototype (DP) and the GT classes start the race so aggressively, knowing that they have to make their equipment last 24 hours, but it is a race, and they not only have to make the car last, but they have to be the first one with the most laps to cross the finish line.
So the main reason to watch is to get that racin' fix. But even if that doesn't do it for you, the news that it means the Bud Shootout is only two weeks away will get you're adrenaline up! Yes! We're almost there!
Meanwhile in other news for those of you who, like myself, just cannot stay away from social networking sites, Infield Parking is back on line after a two week outage. Good to see them back, and I go there for fun while waiting for the season to start.
Also I have found a nice little forum whose logo I have placed on the side bar (it works now, for those of you who have tried it before, I had the link wrong, but it is repaired) Club Racing was founded for those who wish to get away from the troublemakers on the other forums. You have to register in order to see it, but, if you are known as a troublemaker on other forums, they know who you are and you won't be able to get in. Those of you who want a nice place to shoot the bull, check it out though. It is unique.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Daytona Session II Day II

Well, now we are getting to the meat and potatoes of Daytona Testing. The drafting session is showing us something, now, and the teams are adding to what they learned in the first session last week. The Dodges that hung back in time in the single car runs are running at the top in drafting practice.
Franchitti seems to be catching on rather swiftly, as could probably be expected. Not only did he get the fastest times of all the Dodges in the single car runs, but he hung in the top ten in the drafting tests. I have been lauding Regan Smith as the probable ROTY this year, but Franchitti is learning as quickly as Juan Pablo ("Johnny Paul" in my book) Montoya did. Maybe even more quickly.
Regan Smith, whose determination and drive remind me very much of Denny Hamlin, did bring his car up to the second fastest time in drafting, followed by the kid who is still a question mark in my mind, Paul "Daddy bought me a car so I can wreck the big guys" Menard. Actually, to Menard's credit, without much ARCA or Nationwide/NBS experience before he began his Cup career, the kid is learning the hard way. Anyway, the DEI cars seem to be at least meeting some criteria.
Tony Stewart, driving a different car than the one he took to the track Monday, posted the sixth fastest speed Tuesday afternoon.
Known as the guy who hates having to deal with the media, yet seems to have more media events than any other driver, Smoke had some interesting comments in Monday's Q&A session.

"HERB BRANHAM: We are joined by Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota. If you could just start off by telling us how your first day and a half of testing has gone down here.

TONY STEWART: Pretty good. We've not missed a shift yet, and that's the hardest part of what we've done the last day and a half. So other than that, it's just hold it wide open and ride around." (Ooh, the man can be snarky. As Tony Stewart fans, we expect and accept that. Besides, it's funny!)
(On the move to Toyota):
"Like I told you guys last year, I don't care if it's Kia or whoever, I just want to win races."

"Q. After all your experience does it get easier to handle the changes at this level, the changes of rules, equipment, engines?

TONY STEWART: I think everybody that gets to this level can handle it. I don't think it's a bigger deal having more experience. But this year it's not as big a change obviously. In the big picture it seems like a huge change because we switched manufacturers. But if we went ahead and made this change a year ago, it would have been a lot more dramatic than it is this year with the car that's the same for everybody. It's just literally a decal package and a motor package for the most part. I think it's less of a change this year than it would have been in the past."
(Highlighted by this blogger)
On his relationship with Crew Chief Greg Zippadelli:
"I think Zippy and I are now that position to where we don't see each other doing something away from each other. If one of us decides to retire, the other one is going along with him. If he says, "I'm done, I'm ready to do something different," then that's probably when I'll say I'm ready to do something different, too, or vice versa."

The complete chart of Tuesday's times and speeds can be found here

Monday, January 14, 2008

Daytona Session II Day One

Tony Stewart has made it clear to his fans and the media that testing is his least favorite part of racing in NASCAR. If he is going to be in a race car, he wants to be in it to race. In his autobiography, True Speed, he relates a story of how he got in trouble while tire testing in an Indy car for AJ Foyt. He was told to take a lap at a certain speed. But the car was so fast, that he wanted to see how it felt to go faster. He beat the speed he was supposed to be going by nearly six miles per hour.
When he got back to the pits AJ Foyt laid into him, telling him that if he couldn't do what he was told, he would get another driver.
In recent years, Smoke has been able to forego winter testing at Daytona, opting out with the excuse that he would be racing at the Chili Bowl Midget World Series in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an annual event that takes place during the same dates as Daytona testing. Mike McGlaughlin, and more recently, Mike Bliss. have been taking on the mundane duties of test driving the 20 car in his stead.
With the Formula N car being the only car NASCAR will be fielding this year, testing has been extended and additional three days, so the teams could do what they need to do with the unfamiliar car. Tony could compete in the Chili Bowl this year, but there would be time for him to test at Daytona as well.
So, Monday he was at the venerated track, taking the #20 Toyota for laps in single car runs, gathering data for Crew Chief Greg Zippadelli, and the JGR and Toyota engineers.
Smoke seemed less than enthusiastic after the second testing session, even though he had posted the sixth fastest overall speed for the day. He pretty much echoed Mark Martin's thoughts on single car testing, saying that you can't really tell anything from single car runs, and you won't learn anything about the car until you get into drafting practice.
"You don't know what the other teams are doing," he added, "They may be holding their cards close to their chest."
Indeed, it looked as though that was what was going on with the RCR teams who posted way down on the speed chart. Nonetheless, Kevin Harvick seems very positive in regards to what is going on in the Childress garage.

Q. Do you feel like today's test session was sort of the first step in getting you there to repeat the victory?

KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I liked the fact that our main goal today was to be the first ones on the racetrack, and we accomplished that. We came down here with kind of a specific plan to – engine wise with components that they ran, that they started with last week just to kind of get a handle on our whole company's, I guess, grasp of what car is the fastest and what car is not fast. So we're trying to sort that out between the six or eight cars that we have.

So we kind of came down here not with a speed plan, I guess you would say. It's just more of just kind of going through the plan of which cars, just deciding which car is which, and after we get through with that, we're still not done. We'll have changed two or three different engines and just going through those motions.

So we haven't really gotten to our cars. Clinton coming last week was great because right out of the box the car drives good, and there's a definite difference between the two cars. We kind of came down with a little bit different plan than normal but we accomplished our goal and that was to be the first ones on the track, so mission accomplished for the day

Toyota is now very upbeat, and I love the quote from this article on
Ty Norris, president and general manager of Michael Waltrip Racing, darted into the media center at Daytona International Speedway Monday afternoon and smiled as he referred to the speed sheet from the day's opening practice session.

"Look," he said, "it's just like last year -- only upside down."

Norris made a good point. After Monday's morning session, Toyotas ruled the top of the chart. Led by MWR's Dale Jarrett, the manufacturer's cars posted eight of the top 10 lap times.

The other top ten lap times were posted by Ganassi's Dario Franchitti in a Dodge, and, of course Dale Earnhardt, Jr in the #88 HMS Chevy.
Tuesday's half-hour overview on SpeedTV will be at 6:30 PM EST. For a complete listing of Monday's speeds, go here

Thursday, January 10, 2008

First Sprint Cup testing session ends with Kyle Busch and Toyota on top.

Okay, so testing isn't a competition, but it is fun to treat it as such anyway. Every team had its own testing agenda this week, and so we didn't really see every team doing its best to get the fastest times.
Many teams, including the Hendrick teams, went for speed first, and then worked from there for the three day session. What I am excited about is that the Toyota teams went for speed first, and stayed fast for the rest of the session. Not that I'm a Toyota fan, I still like Chevys, but my favorite driver happens to be driving a Toyota this season. Besides, racing has always been more about the drivers for me than about the maufacturers.
But the real story in testing this week has been about the CoT, or the Formula NASCAR car, as I like to call it. Some teams, in getting a handle on the car, have been working with the balast, to try to lower the center of gravity, which, as we can see by the shape of the car, is probably a good idea. Others worked on suspension set ups that would preserve tires, which is a good idea considering the amount of blistering that was reported the first day. Most tested in a combination of areas. Needless to say, the information gathered will be applied to the testing session that will take place next week. So the speeds from these first three days of testing aren't a real preview of the upcoming Daytona 500.
We can, however get some kind of inkling of how racy the Formula N car will be at the 500 from what the drivers have said about the car itself in testing. Jeff Gordon, for instance, told Speed TV's Bob Dilner that he felt they had a handle on the car, and noted that it is easy for the second, third, and forth place cars to pass the car in the front of the pack, something Junior Johnson discovered when he accidently first took advantage of drafting in 1960. JJ Yeley was happy enough with his car that he declared that it would be racy come the 500.
Yeley's positive attitude carried over to other Toyota drivers. A.J. Allmendinger noted the improvement in Toyota over last year in this interview:

Are you happy with how the three-day Daytona test?

“I’m just happy with the whole team’s performance. Everybody back at the Red Bull shop worked so hard to get us prepared to come test down here, and all the guys here that put a lot of effort into these three days. I don’t think anybody has shown their best hand. Everybody is going to come back with a little bit more, but so are we. Toyota has shown us that they stepped up their program. We just need to go back to the shop and not let up at all. We’re pretty good, but we have to get better

In the same publication, Kyle Busch's excitement over the program tells us that there are good things coming for Toyota, not only at the Daytona 500, but for the season:

Are you surprised with how fast the Toyotas have been during this three-day test?
“Not, not at all. We knew that the switch was going to be good, and the reason we went to Toyota was for the pure fact that they want to go out there and compete and win races and win championships, so that's what we're here to do with them. The biggest thing was that it was nice to see the Red Bull stuff up there and Bill Davis' stuff going fast. I'm not necessarily sure if it's a lot to do with their engines or just the way that the Camry's front end is shaped or what exactly it is. For what we've got going on with our program and the Gibbs stuff, we're proud of the way we came out of the box strong.”

This, of course, is from the guy who posted the best times for the three day session.
What we can see from here, is that the season will be competitive, that the Toyota teams will be in the mix, and that we are very impatiant for the Daytona Speed Weeks to begin.
The complete list of posted speeds for Wednesday's testing can be found here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Preason Thunder Day 2--Toyota's looking stronger

Even as interesting as it is to me to see the top speeds in the single car runs, I tend to agree with Mark Martin that this kind of practice really serves no purpose for the drivers and teams. You really can't tell what a car is going to do during a restricter-plate race until you get the cars running in packs.
So, if you just want to see how fast your car can go, the Tuesday morning session served more of that purpose, with Jimmie Johnson again leading the field, posting a speed of 184.763 mph. Jaques Villeneuve continued to show that he could go faster than he did before, placing the second fastest time. Travis Kvapil moved into third place, up from his ninth place after Monday's sessions, and Casey Mears' speed was fifth fastest Tuesday morning.
There were some tire issues with blistering, and Mears, after posting his fifth position speed, slapped the wall after cutting a tire. Elliott Saddler, Carl Edwards, and Jeff Gordon also reported tire blistering. But the purpose of testing is for the teams to figure out what they can do with the tires and the car, and it is up to the teams to figure out how to fix the tire problems, according to John Darby and just about everyone else connected to Goodyear or NASCAR.
So Tuesday afternoon meant that it was finally time for drafting practice. Now we can taste the real meat of testing.
Much to everybody's surprise or consternation, JJ Yeley finished the day with the top speed at a little over 187 mph, after finishing fifth overall in the single car testing. This continues the good news for Toyota, as fellow Toyota driver Kyle Busch had the third fastest time after drafting practice. Big brother Kurt had the second highest speed in his Penske Racing Dodge, while Joe Nemechek and Matt Kenseth filled out the top five. Johnson, who had led the first three sessions, ended up in ninth after Tuesday's testing, while AJ Allmendinger and Jaques Villeneuve fell completely out of the top ten finishing Tuesday's drafting practice in 21st and 19th place respectively. Still they got the practice in, and will get more practice Wednesday to see if the two newcomers from open wheel are learning anything about the cars. David Reutimann driving the Michael Waltrip Racing #00 stayed in the top ten, posting the seventh fastest speed in drafting practice. Reed Sorensen, Martin Truex, Jr., and Robby Gordon filled out the top ten Tuesday afternoon.
The complete list of cumulative speeds for testing so far can be found at Scenedaily, among other places.
The biggest NASCAR news Tuesday was not from testing, but from the world of the NFL, when Coach Joe Gibbs announced that he was resigning from the Washington Redskins. He is expected to return to his role as Coach and revered leader of the racing team that bears his name.
Wednesday's overview of Daytona Testing will be aired on SpeedTV at 7 PM Eastern Standard Time.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Testing is Here!

To quote Speed TV's John Roberts, "The Holidays are over and it is time for a new season of NASCAR."

Though the phrase may seem premature at this time and date, it is not untrue. Preseason Thunder has begun at Daytona. The beginning of a two week period of testing at Daytona International Superspeedway has us dancing and jumping for joy! SmileyCentral.comFinally, after seven long weeks, we get to see some cars going fast.
Monday's testing lived up to our expectations.
There isn't much gray area for the Crew Chiefs to work in on the new Formula NASCAR cars, in terms of gaining speed, so most of the work was on handling set ups and tire data. But lap speed averages are important to those of us who are mere observers, and we saw some of what was expected and many, to some, surprises.
It is no surprise that Jimmie Johnson topped the speed charts in both of Monday's sessions. His Crew Chief, Chad Knaus, in the tradition of the legendary Smokey Yunick, can find gray areas where there are none, and is well on the way to becoming a legend himself. There is no doubt the 48 team of HMS is continuing the momentum with which it ended the '07 season. The rest of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers who are participating in testing this week, Jeff Gordon and Casey Mears, also timed in the top ten in both sessions, Mears having the second fastest speed in both sessions, and Gordon posting third and sixth, respectively. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will not be testing until next week.
The surprises weren't really surprises for those of us who expected them, and were good news for those who's favorite teams happen to be driving Toyotas this season. Red Bull's A.J. Almendinger, Bill Davis Racing's Jaques Villeneuve, Hall of Fame Racing's JJ Yeley, Michael Waltrip's David Reutimann, and Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch all posted speeds in the top ten for their Toyotas in the first session. Speaking like a true racer, Jaques Villeneuve, remarked, "We still have to find more speed. The 48 car is going so much faster, so I know we can be faster."
And, indeed, he did go faster in the second session, posting in the top five, along with A.J. Allmendinger and Kyle Busch. The other two Toyota drivers who finished among the top ten in the first session, remained in the top ten for the second session.
Toyota definitely showed that they have improved over what they had for testing last year. Perhaps some of it is due to the inclusion of JGR in the stable for that manufacturer, along with Toyota Racing Division's policy of encouraging cooperation among it's various teams. But, mainly it is that Toyota had to improve its equipment, because, after all, it couldn't get worse than it was last year.
Chip Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya, 2007's Rookie Of The Year, finished the first session with the ninth fastest speed, and was the eleventh fastest in the second session. Travis Kvapil, in the #28 Yates Racing Ford finished with the tenth best speed in the first session, and seventh in the second, while Aric Almirola, for DEI drove the #1 Impala for the ninth best speed in the second session.
Image by John Dunagan - Fastlines and courtesy of

For a complete listing of Monday's cumulative testing speeds, click here.
It should be noted that NASCAR's "room of doom" for technical inspection is unmanned for the Preseason Thunder sessions, as there is no need for inspection since testing is not competition. With that in mind, we should consider the fact that the teams may be doing more than pushing the envelope in some areas for the sake of tire stress and handling information, and that the speeds recorded Monday may not be accurate in use for comparison of team performance.
Tuesday is the drafting session, which should tell us a bit more about the cars and drivers, and how they may perform at the Daytona 500 in February.
Preseason Thunder coverage will continue on Speed TV Tuesday evening at 7 PM Eastern time.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Time's a gettin' near!

NASCAR Pre-Season Thunder begins this week and continues through next week. This is a definite sign that racing season is nearly here.
There are many reasons to be interested in testing this year. Personally, I am holding off on making any predictions for the season until after testing, mostly because the season is going to be so different in '08 than it was in '07. Oops, does that count as a prediction?
What I'll look for in testing:
New drivers Will Hornish, Dario, and Jaques start getting a handle on the car? They are getting opportunities here that will give them a chance to learn. We will see how they do in drafting practice, and maybe get a little insight into whether they will take to it as well as JPM did. We should also be getting a look at rookie sensations Michael McDowell, who has a huge racing resume at the tender age of 22, and Ragan Smith, who is showing the potential of being another Denny Hamlin.
Toyotas Of course. Will they post some top speeds during testing, and is JGR's addition to the Toyota fold making any difference now?
Action Something to do with racing is really happening. Daytona Testing shortens the off season considerably. We will get fired up for the new season, and will have something to get excited about. Speed TV will be airing a daily review of testing every day of the week, beginning Monday, Jan 7, at 7 PM ET