Spoiler gets test at Talladega
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Tuesday's Sprint Cup series test at Talladega Superspeedway was all about cutbacks.
First NASCAR reduced the size of the restrictor plate hole from 1-1/32 inches to an inch to 31/32ths of an inch after speeds reached 213 mph. Then it trimmed two inches off the height from the outer edges of the spoiler that will replace the wing in two weeks and an inch from each side.
"My feeling is the decision to chop [the spoiler] was a good one," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "We just need to go a bit shorter than that. We got a lot of data today. Hopefully, they'll come up with something good."
Earnhardt and others agreed handling with the spoiler, despite more downforce, was about the same as the wing with the exception of more vibrations and shaking.
"I'm telling you, there's no big difference," NASCAR's most popular driver said.
The real test for the spoiler won't come until next Tuesday and Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway where handling will be an issue. Talladega is mostly about speed, and as NASCAR and the 24 teams discovered the first to plate holes created way too much in large drafts.
"When I got to 208 [mph] I knew that was crazy stupid," Ryan Newman said.
Speeds still were in the 203 mph range after NASCAR reduced the hole from 1-1/32 inches -- 7/64ths of an inch larger than the hole used at Talladega in October and 3/64ths larger than the hole used earlier this year in the Daytona 500 -- to one inch.
It later was reduced to 31/32nds of an inch, where speeds dropped to the mid-190s that satisfied the governing body, whose main concern was excessive closing speed.
"It was crazy as hell," Martin Truex Jr. said. "Wild fast. I'm not kidding. Guys were all over the place. You could go from first to last and back to last in three laps. Crazy."
Earnhardt wasn't quite so blown away, believing the size of the hole won't matter if NASCAR gets the spoiler down to three inches.
"You can't tell the difference from 195 to 215," Earnhardt said. "We went 213 once, but it felt like 200 to me."
NASCAR originally planned this test to determine the size of the plate hole, but then added the spoiler since that will be used when the series runs here on April 25.
For the most part teams were pleased with the spoiler, saying it added more rear and front end downforce as advertised. They were pleased with the way the car handled in the draft, although some complained that it was hard to separate after pulling up tight to bump draft.
That prompted NASCAR to reduce the overall height of the spoiler from 6½-inches on the outside to 4½ inches all the way across.
The spoiler is projected to be four inches all the way across for all non-restrictor plate tracks, beginning with its likely debut on March 28 at Martinsville.
Meanwhile, most agreed the spoiler will be an improvement.
"I think it will make the racing better," Truex said. "I hope so. Yet to be seen. Looks better. I already know that."
That the spoiler, which was replaced when the new car was introduced in 2007, is a cosmetic improvement is a given for all but a few. Having looks match performance is the chief concern.
"The balance is really what we're interested in, how much the balance is going to change the overall grip," four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon said. "This test basically is about what it's going to do in the draft. When we get to Charlotte that's where we'll really get to find out what a spoiler does as compared to a wing."
The biggest complaint with the spoiler prior to the first cut was visibility.
"It's definitely harder to see around it," Newman said.
But high closing speeds -- more attributed to the restrictor plate hole than the spoiler -- were the focus. They got so fast during the first drafting session that Stewart-Haas Racing general manager Bobby Hutchens reminded the drivers they weren't being paid at a test "to drive like maniacs."
The spoiler seemingly didn't eliminate the two-car breakaway that has become commonplace since the new car was introduced. Truex and Michael Waltrip Racing teammate David Reutimann once zoomed to half a straightaway lead in two laps.
"We were gone," Truex said.
Initial speeds during single-car runs were around 188 mph, in range with last year's pole speed of 188.171 mph. They increased to the mid-190s when Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers and Scott Speed hooked up in a five-car draft to close out the morning session.
It quickly became apparent during the afternoon that adjustments -- or cuts -- had to be made to make the drivers more comfortable and to ensure the quality of racing.
"Things on paper and things even in the wind tunnel look very attractive sometimes," Cup series director John Darby said. "Then you turn the lights on in the room and they have a different appearance.
"What we don't have in the wind tunnels and even with the best engineers we work with is input from guys out there holding the steering wheels. They're the ones that actually feel the effect. If they're not comfortable we'll not have a good race. That's what we were here to do."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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