Spoiler could be Cup's 'game-changer'
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- The reappearance of the spoiler on the back of the Sprint Cup cars at Martinsville Speedway drew high praise from many drivers because it makes the cars look better.
Where opinion differed is when the spoiler's impact will be felt on the track.
At just 0.526 miles around, Martinsville didn't allow for enough speed for the spoiler to have much of an effect beyond aesthetics. Though speeds will be higher at the next stop, Phoenix International Raceway on April 10, the spoiler's influence on the racing is still likely to be marginal.
That will change at the high-banked, high-speed 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway on April 18, where the aerodynamic and handling impact of the change will be put to its first true test.
"I've said from the beginning that I think going to a spoiler could be a real game-changer," Jeff Burton said. "I think it will affect some teams more than it does others."
A two-day test at Charlotte Motor Speedway "felt like a normal test," Burton said, but also highlighted how some teams adapted much more quickly to the spoiler than others did.
"I don't think the dynamics of that is going to change," he said at Martinsville. "But it could change who is running well and who isn't running well. Any time there is a change, there is a risk of losing the good that you had, but there is also the chance of gaining something good that you didn't have, and that's going to affect every team differently."
In a series where many weekends are spent with drivers discussing what they can do to slow the dominance of four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, that may offer hope.
Besides the record four titles in a row, he's won three of six races this season, and his ninth-place finish at Martinsville on Monday moved him into first place in the points race.
Then again, Johnson leads all drivers with 22 victories in the 94 races NASCAR has run using the spoiler on cars, and he thinks its impact will be negative, especially in a pack.
"What I kind of predict is that the car is going to be more difficult to drive in traffic," he said, noting that's how it was before. "I've heard a lot of people mention that that's going to make for better racing, and I'm just not buying that as of now."
During the test at Charlotte, he said, drivers got a feel for the spoiler, but he never raced anyone, ran side-by-side with anyone or tried to pass another car during the test.
"Texas will be the weekend when we find out what's up," he said.
Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon is on the other side, welcoming the change. He thinks more has gone into the decision to make the switch than mere performance issues.
"One thing we've learned, and NASCAR has learned, is that perception means a lot to the fans and the media," he said. "We've had some great racing over the years with the rear wing, but I've never been crazy about the way it looks. I will say the spoiler looks really good."
NASCAR's first spoiler test came at 2.66-mile Talladega, the biggest, fastest oval on the circuit, and the series called teams in several times to alter settings on the cars. Among the changes were alterations to the size of the carburetor restrictor plates, which limit horsepower to control speeds at the 200-mph tracks, and the size and shape of the spoilers.
Drivers came away pleased with the results, feeling like one of the desired effects of the spoiler -- keeping cars from going airborne -- would improve safety for them and fans.
But they also left somewhat in the dark about what settings NASCAR will mandate when the series returns on April 25 to the track where spectacular crashes have often been the norm.
That race could wind up as another test of how well teams adapt on the fly.
"They really haven't decided on a spoiler, gear or a restrictor plate size," said Kurt Busch, a big proponent of the change. "We won't really know until we show up.
"That is going to be the tough part about it."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press