Many NASCAR Sprint Cup teams were hard at work at the Talladega Superspeedway this past Tuesday.
Over 20 teams made the trip to the 2.66-mile tri-oval for two reasons. The first was to determine the size of the holes for the restrictor plates. The second was for the first major test of the new spoiler for the Sprint Cup car.
Overall, the drivers said it was a big change from what they have experienced with the wing, but also say that it's not unlike what they've experienced with the new car.
Defending four-time Sprint Cup champion, Jimmie Johnson, said that it was definitely different compared to the wing. However, Johnson said the teams won't know how different until the race itself.
"I don't know yet until we have more cars. A bigger spoiler, a bigger pocket of air – in some ways it seems like it’s easier to close up but it also seems like, because of that big spoiler, it’s more difficult to clear the car for the lead pass," Johnson said.
“Once you get into clean air, it just stops the car. But it didn’t do anything crazy, which was nice.”
The spoiler will be in use during the April 25 running of the Aaron's 499, but will be incorporated onto the current car in the next two or three weeks. The first race with the new spoiler will possibly be at Martinsville on March 28.
Johnson was part of a five-car draft that ran the morning session, which was the average size drafting pack for most of the testing. Officials put on the largest restrictor plate ever for a Cup car, 1 1/32nd-inch diameter holes. At last fall's Amp Energy 500, the holes were 59/64th-inches in diameter.
Speeds during the morning were between 194 and 195 mph, which were also attributed to the cool temperatures.
The afternoon session began with the same size plate, however after noticing the same high speeds, the size of the holes was shrunk to 62/64th-inches, or 31/32nds.
"For us, we can’t tell a 5-6-mile-an-hour difference in the car,” Johnson said. “It’s really the threshold of where the car lifts off that NASCAR has that data on. It’s more them dialing us down to that speed.”
In single car runs, most of the teams were posting speeds of 187-188 mph. Kurt Busch posted the fastest run, at 189.320 mph. Last year's pole speed was 188.171 mph.
The interesting comparison in the garage was how the cars would close up on the car in front. Crew chiefs and drivers said that with the spoiler, the cars were similar to the Truck Series in their fast closing rate.
For the Cup cars, the spoiler is 64.5-inches wide and four inches high. For Talladega, the ends of the spoiler are higher than the middle, similar to the spoiler for the trucks when they run at Daytona and Talladega.
“The cars have a little bit more turbulent air when you’re behind other cars – it makes the car rattle and shake a little bit more, which I heard was similar to the Nationwide cars [with a spoiler],” said Jeff Gordon.
“Not a big surprise there, and a little bit of visual [issues], not necessarily behind you but when you’re a behind car, the corners of the spoiler are real tall [so it’s hard] seeing across those corners to the side of somebody, trying to look further ahead.
"But other than that, I thought everything went really well.”
Despite the high marks on the spoiler, the one thing that drivers found similar to the wing was the difficulty in finding more speed from their baseline runs.
“You’ve kind of got what you’ve got,” said Michael Waltrip Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. “Speed-wise, we made some changes and tried a few things.
"We gained a little and lost a little but overall we stayed with how we unloaded. With the bigger plate and the bigger spoiler, the car accelerates a lot faster.”
Truex's crew chief, Pat Tryson, said that his setup for the No. 56 NAPA Toyota changed very little from the wing to the spoiler, mostly due to how handling is a non-factor at NASCAR's biggest track.
"It's still pretty much what we ran last year, except we have stiffer springs because they've mandated them," Tryson said. "We'll see what's it like in a pack, but it really hasn't been much different. This place is so smooth that it's pretty easy.
"This is probably the worst place to try to get a feel for it."
Steve Letarte, crew chief on Gordon's No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, echoed those views.
I think you'll see some guys working on their setups, just because we haven't had track time here to play with the car. But I don't see any wholesale changes up and down the garage. Everybody seems to be fine-tuning," Letarte said.
Both crews mentioned that the upcoming test at Charlotte Motor Speedway will give them better feedback on handling.
As for the racing, Truex said he expects a lot of bump drafting practice to occur. This past fall, the use of bump drafting was banned at the track, but was reinstated before this year's Daytona 500.
"If the cars suck up well here, which I think they will, there will be plenty of bump-drafting practice going on," Truex said. "As far as losing the pack, I don't think there's any way that'll happen. I think you could probably catch the pack by yourself. I don't think losing the draft's going to be an issue.
"It's going to be tough to be the leader. You're not going to lead long, not like in years past, where a guy could get in the lead and if he had a really strong car, he could stay out there."
Testing at the Charlotte Motor Speedway will be held next week, March 23 and 24. Both days will focus solely on the new spoiler.
Vice President of Competition for NASCAR, Robin Pemberton, has confirmed that this weekend's race at Bristol is the final race for the wing. Starting with Martinsville, the spoiler will be used.
This decision will be regardless of what is discovered at the two-day test next week at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.