Well, we officially get back to the track this week with NASCAR testing at Daytona International Speedway. It pretty much will be same ol’, same ol’ when it comes to testing down there. Everyone will be on a different agenda.
For the most part, unless there is a Goodyear tire test down the road later in the month or the year, this is truly the test for the four restrictor-plate races this season at Daytona and Talladega. You simply aren’t going to see a team burn a test at either of these tracks later this year.
The reason I say that is because what you learn at Daytona or Talladega is only relative to those four races and has nothing to do with the other 32 events this season.
Certainly, the focus this week in Daytona will be on Speed Weeks in February. That will encompass the Sprint Unlimited race, Daytona 500 qualifying, the qualifying races and then naturally the big daddy of them all – the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 23, live on FOX.
Even though it is only four races a season at Daytona and Talladega, teams never cease to work on their restrictor-plate programs. When you look at the top four engine programs – Roush/Yates for the Fords, Toyota Racing Development for the Toyotas and then Earnhardt-Childress Racing and Hendrick Motorsports for the Chevrolets — they all have a designated group that does nothing but work on restrictor-plate engines all year long.
Everyone knows that in restrictor-plate racing that if you can find a 1- to 3-horsepower increase from the previous year, trust me, it’ll show up on the charts. There haven’t been any major rule changes in the off-season, so when they roll those cars off the truck on Thursday and take to the track, those teams are going to be looking for any gains from 2013.
There has been a slight change from the last time the teams were down in Daytona and that’s because NASCAR has mandated a little bigger rear spoiler. We know it’s going to slow the cars down, but it should be relative because it should slow every team down.
If you look at the top 10 or 11 organizations in our sport today, only three of them are going to Daytona for testing with the same driver/crew chief combo that they ended the 2013 season with. Those three organizations – Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Motorsports – are it. They have the same combos, while everyone else has had changes to their lineup.
So while it’s pretty much business as usual this week in Daytona for testing, it does give all these new combinations a chance to get used to each other at the race track. They will work on their communication and of course, their chemistry with each other, which is so critical. This is a really great opportunity to get everyone’s feet wet for the upcoming 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.