Commentary

Unlimited testing would further separate the haves from have-nots

If NASCAR moves to an open and unlimited Sprint Cup testing policy, it may as well admit the new car is an on-track dog. It would also mean the power teams would dominate the sport even more, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: June 29, 2008, 9:38 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

LOUDON, N.H. -- Forget about that idea of controlling costs in Sprint Cup racing. If NASCAR implements the unlimited testing policy it floated Saturday, costs for Cup teams will skyrocket.

That's the bad news. But some people in NASCAR see a positive to testing anytime, anywhere.

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said he believes more testing would improve the racing with the new car. NASCAR currently sets the number of tests each season.

"What I want is to further develop these cars," Gossage said Sunday. "They're going to be fine in time, but they aren't fully developed. The only way to fix that is to give them more development time. Fans aren't paying millions of dollars in admissions to watch a 500-mile test. They want a race."

But that development time costs money. Cost containment was one of the main reasons for switching to the Car of Tomorrow design. The idea was that teams could reduce expenses by using the same cars at different types of tracks and by building fewer cars each season.

Doing that has had mixed results, but NASCAR officials might as well say they are giving up on cost reductions if they're willing to give the teams limitless testing.

This formula could crush the small teams left in the Cup series. They couldn't afford to test at every Cup track, which would be certain for the big-money teams if this plan were to happen.

The mega teams -- Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing -- probably would have a full-time test team and driver to travel around the country and gather data at various tracks. Penske Racing already has a test team.

Those organizations also could afford to send at least one of their teams to each of the 22 Cup venues, and probably more than one team at many tracks.

The big teams probably would test twice at some tracks that have two events to compensate for weather changes. The typically sweltering July night race at Daytona has much different track conditions than the Daytona 500 in February.

Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., usually has temperatures in the 60s for its February race compared with well more than 100 degrees for the Labor Day weekend event. That range of temperatures can have a huge impact on handling conditions for a race car.

Conservatively speaking, the cost of taking a hauler, two cars, a crew and driver to California and back is at least $30,000.

Auto Club Speedway is one of seven open tests NASCAR has under the current testing plan. But many teams would go to Cali twice if unlimited testing was allowed.

Only one test is left this season, with Lowe's Motor Speedway on the docket for Sept. 23-24. There was an earlier test at Lowe's, with Auto Club Speedway, Daytona, Pocono, Las Vegas and Phoenix also thrown in to make up the seven tests.

Goodyear also has tire tests at tracks (usually one car for each manufacturer) where engineers gather data on the type of tire needed at a particular venue. NASCAR also added a few tests this season at tracks that were using the new car for the first time.

John Darby, the director of the Cup series, said Saturday that teams test every week anyway, so this wouldn't be a big change. Cup teams conduct tests at tracks that don't play host to Cup events because NASCAR doesn't try to control tests at non-Cup tracks.

Gossage said the unlimited testing at non-Cup tracks is a big problem the new idea would eliminate.

"I went to Jayski.com and printed 22 pages of one-paragraph items listing where all these teams have tested this year," Gossage said. "I sent that to [NASCAR chairman] Brian France with a note that read: 'Here's how your testing policy is working?'

"It makes no sense to test at tracks that Cup doesn't do business with, and those of us that do are left out in the cold."

A valid point, but even Gossage admits unlimited testing isn't the answer.

"There probably does need to be some restrictions to it," he said. "But we need some form of testing that allows the teams to test at the speedways they race on. If you are going to run Milwaukee to simulate New Hampshire, then just go to New Hampshire."

Ray Evernham

My question is, what is NASCAR trying to accomplish? The guys in the garage want to make changes to the bodies. Why don't we do that? In this business, we've always had clear goals: Have competitive racing and save costs. I don't see how unlimited testing fits into either one of those things.

-- Ray Evernham

Most of these tests at non-Cup tracks involve a location relatively close to where all the Cup teams are based in North Carolina. Opening up testing to every Cup track would require longer trips and far greater travel expenses.

Some crew chiefs estimate testing costs would double. It also would place an additional burden on the crews by adding travel time to a schedule that already is the longest and most grueling in racing.

Crew chiefs for most of the super teams don't care. They would gain valuable data for each race, and they know the organization can absorb the cost increase.

But with diesel prices approaching $5 a gallon and airfare going up daily, smaller teams can't even consider the added cost of this plan. It also sends the wrong message to fans and everyone involved in NASCAR.

Darby also claims unlimited testing has nothing to do with the competition issues of the new cars. But this idea is a way for NASCAR to give the teams a better opportunity to improve the car without making any changes to the design.

Instead of making a change to the body that might improve racing at some tracks, NASCAR prefers to make testing a free-for-all and pass all the costs on to the teams.

"My question is, what is NASCAR trying to accomplish?" asked Ray Evernham, co-owner of Gillett Evernham Motorsports and an analyst for ESPN. "The guys in the garage want to make changes to the bodies. Why don't we do that?

"In this business, we've always had clear goals: Have competitive racing and save costs. I don't see how unlimited testing fits into either one of those things."

Gossage said it's also an advantage to have Cup drivers and teams at the tracks where they will race because it helps promote the event.

But testing without rules isn't the answer. Too much freedom is a bad thing when it comes to Cup teams. More testing does have some good points, but finding a middle ground is a better idea.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

ALSO SEE