Lack of workouts on NASCAR tracks good for vets, bad for young teams

HAMPTON — Just before the end of the 2008 season, NASCAR banned testing at its sanctioned tracks. If it were up to drivers like Kevin Harvick, it would remain that way in the future.

But for drivers with teams trying to break in new personnel or get used to new cars, the lack of testing hasn’t been such a good thing.

“This is a long season. I think they should make it mandatory every season from Homestead to Daytona, you don’t test and once the season starts, back at it,” Harvick said.

Some teams did some testing on their own during the offseason at smaller tracks that don’t host national NASCAR events. A handful of teams were also invited to Goodyear tire tests. But those tests don’t give teams anywhere near as much information as a session at Daytona or Las Vegas with more than 30 other cars would.

“You can still test six days a week and not test that seventh day, and you’ll still have stuff that you want to test,” Tony Stewart said. “There’s always going to be things that people want to test, because that’s how you become better.”

For teams in transition, having to enter the season without the benefit of extensive testing presents a pretty sharp curveball. One of those teams is Richard Petty Motorsports, which formed during the offseason with the merger of Gillette-Evernham Motorsports and Petty Enterprises. The move included new crew chiefs for A.J. Allmendinger and Reed Sorenson to get used to. In past years, extensive testing sessions would have given both drivers a good opportunity to gel with their new team in the preseason. That wasn’t an option this year.

“It hurts us as a team,” Sorenson said. “Me coming to the team and not being able to work at the crew chief at the track over the winter hurts a lot.”

The Petty teams have had a rough time the past two races. Kasey Kahne is the only one of the team’s drivers to finish in the top 20 since the Daytona 500, finishing 12th at Auto Club Speedway and 11th in Las Vegas. Allmendinger finished 29th in California and 33rd in Las Vegas. Sorenson was 21st in California and 34th in Las Vegas while Elliott Sadler’s results since nearly winning the Daytona 500 have been 25th and 29th, respectively.

“The last few weeks, us as an organization have struggled a bit,” Allmendinger said. “We’ve got brand new race cars, and I think that if we would have been able to go test at Vegas and Fontana like we have in the past, we would have probably had some of these problems sorted out.”

To combat a lack of testing, some teams can rely on their notes and other information from the previous season. That means that the stronger an organization is, the more likely it is to be capable to adjusting to not being able to test its cars like it is accustomed to doing.

Harvick and David Ragan, for example, drive for Richard Childress Racing and Roush Fenway Racing, two teams that combined to qualify six drivers in the Chase for the championship a year ago.

“I think that if we had the testing policy, the same guys would still be fast that are today,” Ragan said. “I think the testing ban is one of the best things that NASCAR has done in several years. It’s really cool.”

Harvick has two views of having a slower offseason as both a driver and owner of Kevin Harvick Inc., which fields entries in the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series. Harvick puts a lot of value on being able to give his crewmen more time at home during December and January instead of having them traveling to full-scale test sessions in Las Vegas, California and Daytona.

“I think the crew guys, myself included, really enjoyed the fact that we didn’t have to go straight from Homestead to working on your cars, to testing straight to race,” Harvick said. “The hardest part for the crew guys is that they wind up working right until Christmas, and then if you’re behind they’re making up their Christmas vacation short, and you need that time to just not be miserable. It seems like everybody has a lot of spring in their step.”