The new car for the NASCAR Nationwide Series began its final tests Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway before its debut race there on July 2.
“Our goals today were to find the correct tapered spacer for the engine for when we come back to race,” said NASCAR Nationwide Series Director Joe Balash. “Along with that, we're also testing out the rear gear to make sure we have the correct rpm.
“When we get back for the race, it will be the first race for the Nationwide Series to use tapered spacers at a race like Daytona or Talladega – we're moving away from our restrictor plates. That will allow the teams to have a little more rpm in the engines.”
A total of 26 drivers and 32 cars representing 12 teams were on track Tuesday for two sessions. The morning session consisted of single-car runs, while the afternoon session began in single-car fashion, but moved into drafting, one of the points of emphasis for the two-day test.
“We needed to give these teams some time to get the car sorted out,” said Brett Bodine, director of competition for NASCAR Research & Development. “From the NASCAR side, we definitely want to make sure we have the competition elements in place, and be sure the teams are aware of them as much prior to the event as possible. The drafting sessions will be the most important for us to get that data, make our decisions and get that to the teams.”
Teams' attendance at the Daytona test was based upon when they started their new car projects.
“When we get down for the event we'll have an additional day of practice, and those teams that aren't here will be able to get additional time on the track before the actual event starts,” Balash said. “So there are various phases as to how the teams are working toward getting to Daytona in July.”
Bodine noted that plenty of information will be shared between teams at the test and those teams that didn't attend. But he also said the NASCAR Nationwide Series is more than ready for the debut of the new car as a whole.
“We've had 85 chassis certified through the process at the R&D Center, so there's a large number of eligible chassis out there to be built for the event,” Bodine said. “I think that's a very good testament to how well-prepared this series really is coming in to the use of this new car. All four manufacturers are here and they're gathering data to share with the teams that aren't here as well.”
According to Balash, 62 percent of those cars are Sprint Cup cars that have been converted to Nationwide cars.
“I think the process has been working well to convert those cars over to have a cost benefit,” he said.
Safety, cost containment and helping to further establish the series' identity have been the main cogs in the overall development of the new car, which held its first test in 2008 at Richmond. The car also has tested at Charlotte in 2008 and last October at Talladega Superspeedway. Following its inaugural race at Daytona, the new car will race at Michigan on Aug. 14, at Richmond on Sept. 10 and at Charlotte on Oct. 15.
“The key point is that this is the same chassis center section of the car that's used in the Cup series,” Bodine said. “And we've all seen the on-track testaments as to how safe that car is. Bringing it to the Nationwide Series with a different look is exciting for the fans. The different name plates and the overall styling give the Nationwide car its own identity. I think the race fans are really going to embrace it once they get an eyeful of it here in July. We're looking for 2011 to be an awesome year for the series with this car in full swing.”
“I'm really excited from a personal standpoint to go to the new car because I'm a bigger guy,” said Brian Scott (No. 11 Braun Racing Toyota), the series' Raybestos Rookie leader, also is 10th in the driver standings. “I know it's safer, it gives me more headroom and more options as to how I mount my seat and where I put my steering wheel, which is a huge benefit to me. And, I'm really excited about the looks of the new car. I think it identifies more with actual production cars you see on the street. Of course, I'm biased – I think the Camry looks the best of all of them. But the same with the Impala, Challenger and Mustang – I think the fans are going to identify well with all of them.”
Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge) was naturally more partial to his Challenger: “I think the Dodge is the best-looking car,” said the series' standings leader. “I think it looks more like a street car and the fans do, too. There's a coolness factor to that. That's something to be proud of for this series.”
Kevin Harvick (No. 33 KHI Chevrolet) was the fastest in the morning single-car session with a lap of 49.560sec/181.598mph. Reigning series champion Kyle Busch (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) topped the chart in the afternoon drafting session with a time of 48.545sec/185.395mph.