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Daytona test a success; bump drafting is over

Three-day session goes well, and even the crash has a positive side

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013
More information NASCAR season begins in Daytona Feb. 16: Sprint Unlimited (non-points) Feb. 17: Daytona 500 qualifying Feb. 21: Duels (first race starts at 2 p.m.) Feb. 24, 1 p.m., Daytona 500 First points race of the 2013 Sprint Cup season

There were few complaints and even less direct involvement from NASCAR officials.

By all accounts this week’s Sprint Cup Series test at Daytona International was a resounding success – well almost.

There was the 12-car wreck on Friday afternoon when teams elected to try drafting in packs, but even that produced one positive – teams were able to gauge how the parts and pieces on the new 2013 model cars faired in an accident.

“All in all, I think the test progressed quite nicely,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition. “Speeds look to be where they need to be.

“Even though there was an incident, there was an opportunity for manufacturers to look at the components they built and we got a good look at the new roof-flap system.”

The accident also offered a distinct warning to competitors that the “bump-drafting,” or pushing of other cars, could be a costly venture this season.

Distinctly different manufacturer designs prevent the cars from neatly matching up bumpers like in recent years. Aerodynamic changes to the car also seem to favor drafting techniques of the past.

“It’s almost to where we’re back to where we used to be with the draft even before the (Car of Tomorrow) came along (in 2007),” said former Cup crew chief and Speed TV analyst Larry McReynolds.

“When we were here prior to 2007, you didn’t see anybody pushing anybody around the track. You drafted, but you didn’t push.”

McReynolds believes the near-elimination of “bump-drafting” will vastly change the race NASCAR fans will see next month.

“I think it will look completely different,” he said, “and for the better.”

The biggest downside during this week’s test was the lack of car inventory for teams.

Several teams who lost a car in the Friday wreck were forced to leave early since most didn’t have backup cars. With many of the final specifications of the new model car only approved last month, teams have been slow to build up their fleets.

Pemberton said he didn’t expect the wreck to prevent any team involved from participating in next week’s test at Charlotte Motor Speedway or slow teams’ ability to be ready for Speedweeks next month.

This year’s preseason test was far different from last year when NASCAR officials made changes to grill openings and restrictor-plate size almost daily as they tried to reduce the dependence on two-car drafting tandems.

In fact, there was little NASCAR involvement in how the test was conducted other than encouragement to teams to give drafting a try on Friday.

Single-car run speeds hovered around 194 mph while the top average lap speed in Friday’s two drafting sessions was just over 199 mph.

“We were ready to be hands-on but we felt we did our homework on this, working with the manufacturers and the teams and came down here pretty straightforward,” Pemberton said.

“Single-car speeds are a little bit quicker than last year, and that was a goal. Pack speeds are the same or down a little bit, and that was another one our goals.

“Right now, we see all positives.”

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