NASCAR is closing in on approving the 2013 Sprint Cup cars.
The sanctioning body could sign off on the new models as early as next week.
NASCAR has a two-day wind tunnel test scheduled at AeroDyn in Mooresville, N.C., for July 2 and 3. All four manufacturers will put their body panels over a uniform chassis provided by NASCAR. Each of the manufacturers — Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge and Toyota — will be expected to hit the established target numbers for drag and downforce with their cars.
“Hopefully, when we go there we’ll be able to complete the (development) process and then the manufacturers can start building parts and teams can start building cars for 2013,” said NASCAR template manager Billy Berkheimer.
Pat Suhy, General Motors Racing NASCAR group manager, says the tooling process for the sheet metal will take about six weeks to complete. Teams are already working on the green area of the car or the area over the cockpit.
“It’s been a good process,” Suhy said of the new-car project. “It would have been better if it had started three months earlier for everyone involved.
“I can’t wait until we can show the world the uncamouflaged version of our car.”
Suhy added that the new cars will all participate in an upcoming Goodyear tire test in August.
Going forward, only the new cars will be used during testing.
“NASCAR wanted to make sure that no one had an advantage with the 2013 car,” said Suhy.
Considering that the manufacturers will have their hands full for the next several months, here are 10 other storylines to keep an eye on this week:
1. Ah, Silly Season
Matt Kenseth, by far the most sought-after free agent, is keeping his plans closely guarded. Kenseth has been named as a possible candidate for Stewart-Haas Racing, Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. Similar to Kenseth, Roush Fenway Racing — Kenseth’s current and only home since moving to Cup — is also keeping plans under wraps. That’s understandable after last year’s bargaining debacle in the effort to hang on to Carl Edwards. It’s unlikely the organization would take a similar path this year with Kenseth, although oddly enough he’s leading the points as Edwards was last year. Will Kenseth’s negotiations also drag on until August? Not likely. But the former champion has plenty of opportunities and plenty of time to formulate a plan.
2. Big mover
Tony Stewart jumped three spots in the points standings Sunday after finishing second — his fifth top-five finish at Sonoma and his second consecutive second-place showing. The defending Sprint Cup champ is gaining momentum much earlier than last year. This should be a warning to the rest of those in the garage to up their games.
3. Kurt Busch
Busch has been on the defensive from about the time Jimmy Spencer delivered a shiner to the brash NASCAR newcomer at Michigan in 2003. But Busch went on to win the championship the next year. Although physically the wiry Busch may not have the build of a fighter, he knows how to make a comeback. Sunday, he did just that. With a better orchestrated postrace situation, Busch handled his obligations just fine. Busch actually endeared himself to many in the media center as his shell melted. He was genuine and witty. And at the end of his session, many applauded his accomplishment. No, applause is not acceptable in media centers — ever. But Busch won over many on Sunday. Now, he just has to keep riding the momentum — and keep himself in check.
4. Job security
Was Joey Logano’s win at Pocono enough to save his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing? Very possibly. “Joey’s been great on and off the track,” says team president J.D. Gibbs. Whether it’s enough for Home Depot to step up is unclear, however. Logano is certainly doing his part. However, after contact with his two teammates — Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin — at Sonoma, they might think differently.
5. Speaking of Gibbs …
Is JGR expanding? J.D. Gibbs added, “We can do three teams or we can do four teams.” Gibbs says the facility is large enough to accommodate a fourth team, which is certainly where much of the buzz of a new driver could be coming from. Sponsorship could be the key to Gibbs’ next move.
Is there a better motivation? As thrilled as Clint Bowyer was to win Sunday, his crew chief Brian Pattie savored the moment. Not only was it Pattie’s first win with Bowyer, but the team spanked the field. And Pattie’s former driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who has just two career wins — both on road courses — in 197 starts, struggled to finish 34th on Sunday. As Pattie continues to lead the No. 15 team, which is seventh in the points standings, Montoya dropped to 22nd after Sonoma. No wonder Pattie is looking forward to Indy.
7. Not a gas
Both Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick ran out of fuel at Sonoma. Gordon, who led 14 laps prior, recovered and finish sixth. Harvick wasn’t as lucky. The incident provoked Harvick to exclaim, “We’re all going to get fired because we can’t finish a (expletive) race.” Entering the season, it appeared this would be Harvick’s best shot at winning a Sprint Cup title. But lately, Harvick just doesn’t appear “Happy.” He started the season as a top-five threat, but fell to eighth place five races ago and has only worked his way back to sixth. Not sure where the breakdown in communication is between Harvick and crew chief Shane Wilson, but if the No. 29 keeps running out of gas, so will this relationship.
8. Just sayin’
AJ Allmendinger had the winning car from last year. His team had Kurt Busch’s winning setup from 2011 as well. So why didn’t the team use it? Also confused as to why a crew chief would decide to short-pit on Lap 19 when it’s clear that a two-pit stop strategy is what it takes to win at Sonoma. Allmendinger kept his composure despite the crew taking two laps after the stop to inform the driver that he was two laps short on fuel to make it to the finish. Fortunately, a late-race caution enabled the No. 22 to pit for a splash of fuel to finish the race in the top 10, but this could have been disastrous.
9. Coming of age
Great to see Nelson Piquet Jr. earn a breakthrough win at Elkhart Lake on Saturday in just his third Nationwide Series start. Piquet is coming through the NASCAR ranks slowly, but his progress is steady. The full-time Trucker has three top fives and five top-10 finishes in seven starts this season. Plus, he’s a pleasure to deal with off the track.
10. Tackling the engine gremlins and beyond …
Toyota’s initiative to make changes to the engines prior to Sonoma enabled its teams to enjoy a trouble-free weekend. Clint Bowyer took the top spot at Sonoma — the first time a Toyota has won the race since 2008. Plus Brian Vickers and Joey Logano served up top-10 finishes. Now the tour rolls on to Kentucky Speedway, where Kyle Busch is the defending winner. Last year after Red Bull Racing decided to shut its doors, it was expected that Joe Gibbs Racing would continue to be the flagship organization for Toyota and things would remain status quo. However, by consolidating the engine program and building a technical alliance between JGR and Michael Waltrip Racing, the Toyota program is stronger than ever.