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NASCAR: Testing Ban A Challenge to Rookies and IRL Drivers

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Sharpie 500 Qualifying

By: Lisa DeSpain

If you ask Sprint Cup teams and the powers that be in NASCAR, you will hear that the ban NASCAR put on testing this year has been a win-win situation. An unqualified success. Has it really? To be fair, it has saved teams significant money, and allowed them to work longer on the cars at their home shops in the off season, rather than taking up that time traveling to testing tracks. However, how can you get information on, and a feel for, a track like Atlanta, without testing at Atlanta? When crew chiefs and teams could test on a NASCAR sanctioned track, they got racing data on the tracks they would see later in the season. Not to mention that the drivers got to practice on tracks with which they may have had limited, or no, experience.

I started thinking about the challenges IRL and Formula One drivers face as they come to NASCAR as rookies. There are many differences between driving open wheel cars, and driving Cup cars. Cup cars are heavier and harder to drive. In the IRL, drivers tend to give each other more room because of the fact that the cars canít take as much punishment as Cup cars. Bump drafting is not something IRL drivers have seen much. Cup races are longer than IRL races, and have much more going on for the drivers and crews. With everything else to which the driver has to adjust, what happens if the race is at a track the driver has never seen? Crew chiefs can only offer so much advice. Experience must handle the rest.

Sam Hornish, Jr. once remarked that at his first race at Bristol, he had one and a half hours of practice before he had to qualify on a track he had never seen. Apparently, he hadnít had the opportunity to test at Bristol. I remember someone on Raceday, I think it was Kenny Wallace, but please correct me if Iím wrong, saying that itís taking about three years for these IRL and Formula One drivers to get up to speed. Thatís a huge learning curve. Guys who came up in NASCAR back in the day, and as late as last year, had the opportunity to test on every track at which the Cup series races. This year, with the ban on testing at any sanctioned track that has Cup, Nationwide, Truck, or Camping World East or West events, rookies have no way to gain experience with the tracks on which they compete, except by competing.

Iím not knocking the testing ban. It has done what it was designed to do, and allowed teams to save money and have a little more down time in between races. However, in my humble opinion, the testing ban might be doing a disservice to the rookies by not allowing them the chance to get the experience they need on these tracks. Football players practice every day. They run plays hundreds of times, and view films of plays hundreds more. At least the playing field doesnít fundamentally change from week to week. Every track on which NASCAR competes is idiosyncratic and, unfortunately tracks on which testing is allowed cannot substitute for the real thing.

At one point, NASCAR was entertaining the idea of allowing more practice time for rookies on the competition tracks. Since NASCAR does not check with me before it institutes these policies, Iíd like to know if theyíve thought any more about that. I guess Iíll just have to wait for Robin Pembertonís call. (Thursdayís good for me, Mr. P!) In the meantime guys, just donít hit Tony Stewart or Dale Earnhardt, Jr., ok?

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