Drivers take spoiler for spin at Charlotte
CONCORD, N.C. -- Don't look for a major change in the handling of Sprint Cup cars with a spoiler instead of the wing.
"Every time I've put it on, I haven't been able to tell a difference," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said during Tuesday's spoiler test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "It's not a big difference. It's probably a little too early to tell, but that's what I think right now."
Many of the 41 other drivers that participated in the first of a two-day test at the 1.5-mile track agreed.
"I don't expect much [difference], especially over a period of time," four-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said. "Out of the gate there could be someone that finds that magical touch, that can separate themselves, but it will probably be short-lived."
NASCAR will use the spoiler in competition for the first time since the new car's 2007 debut this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. Most drivers agree the first real test won't come until the April 18 race at Texas where handling will be more of an issue.
The spoiler will be 4½-inches high and 63 inches wide at Talladega and Daytona and 4 inches tall everywhere else.
But for now, point leader Kevin Harvick said, "It's not a huge change."
NASCAR made an effort to make sure the balance in the car didn't change significantly with the spoiler, understanding that could create problems, specifically in tire wear. The only significant adjustment on Tuesday was a change in gears to provide more RPMs.
"The balance shift is so small it'll take little bitty tweaks here and there to make it right," said Tony Gibson, the crew chief for Ryan Newman. "But the results in the garage will be the same on Sunday."
Kurt Busch said the cars feel more stable with the spoiler and create a higher drag, which he hopes will create more side-by-side racing.
"What I think was missing with the wing was the side draft," Busch said. "We're going to see a good bit of side by side racing because you can't drive right on by the guy."
The car definitely has more rear downforce with the spoiler, which makes it stick better in the corners. Dave Rogers, the crew chief for Kyle Busch, said his driver got into the corners well.
"I think you'll see more drafting at these mile-and-a-half tracks," he said. "It's hard to say if that's going to be better or worse. It is what it is, so we're going to make the best of it."
NASCAR made the decision to transition away from the wing prior to the season in part because fans -- and drivers -- said they liked the traditional spoiler better and in part because tests showed it created more downforce.
"We had reasons to go to the wing," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition as he recounted the decision to switch from wings to spoilers initially. "Some of those might not have panned out. Quite frankly, one of them was nobody really warmed up to it. They didn't like it. They didn't like the appearance of it."
Early tire tests with the spoiler at Texas and Darlington, as well as a 24-driver test at Talladega Superspeedway, supported the downforce argument. How the cars will handle in traffic at 1.5 mile tracks is the only remaining question, one many felt wasn't answered totally at CMS.
Whether or not the wing will change the dominance of Johnson, who won 22 of 93 races with the wing and three of five this year, remains to be seen.
"I wouldn't say that is gonna change Jimmie Johnson, but maybe it'll slow him down," Kasey Kahne said. "Who knows? Everybody is definitely trying hard."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.