By Mike Mulhern
NASCAR’s finest, sans Cup tour leaders Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, finished their two days of test the car-of-tomorrow at Atlanta Motor Speedway Tuesday, and there were no cheers.
“The car-of-tomorrow does drive differently, there’s no question,” Jeff Burton, one of the 50 men testing, said.
“But it’s probably not as different as one would assume.
“The struggles we have with the current car are similar to the struggles we have with the new car. The new car makes overall less grip, so that tends to magnify the problem.
“If we were 30 percent too tight, now we’re 50 percent too tight. If we were 30 percent loose, now we’re 50 percent too loose.
“They (the new cars) just do more of the bad things more of the time, and they do it to a worse degree.
“They don’t drive as good for sure, but not as radically different as the two cars look.”
The fastest lap of the test was by Kyle Busch, in a Joe Gibbs’ car, at 187.095 mph.
Working traffic with the new model won’t be easy, drivers say. “The wing has certainly helped a great deal with the stability of the car, especially around all the cars,” Burton said. “But everybody is pretty much running by themselves, like we typically would in a practice. So it’s yet to be determined how good or how bad they’re going to be with 43 of them out there.
“And we’re still in the exploratory phase.
“Honestly, in the last day and a half, we’ve learned we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re behind.
And it’s not because we haven’t worked hard, but some other people have just done a better job.
“We just can’t go as fast as we need to go with any of our cars right now.
“So it’s good to know where we are in October and November rather than February. And it’s clear we’ve got some ground to gain.”
One of the men everyone at the Atlanta test was watching was newcomer Jacques Villeneuve. He’s had several Truck races under his belt now, including Saturday’s Atlanta race.
“The car is so much different than the Truck to drive,” Villeneuve says. “In the car-of-tomorrow you carry a lot more speed down the straightaways and slow down a lot more in the corners.
“It’s a lot different to drive, and more difficult to drive.
“The tires drop off (in speed) quite quickly, so to get your best lap, you have to go out hard and figure out things.”
One of the men watching Villeneuve is fellow Montrealer Patrick Carpentier, who is joining Ray Evernham’s Dodge team.
“The track is really challenging, and it’s a new track for me also,” Carpentier says.
“It’s fast. The cars come up to the corners at tremendous speeds. They’ve got no downforce, and they weigh a ton.
“It’s very hard. You’re always moving sideways, and pushing, and trying to get the car in the right lane. It’s been a challenge.
“Monday morning when I got in it, the whole morning I thought ‘Man, am I going to figure this out one of these days?’
“But it was better in the afternoon.”
Carpentier is relying on new teammates Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler for advice. “I got Kasey and Elliott to just keep coming to the car to talk to me, to explain to me what to do with the throttle and different things, and it really helps out quite a bit,” Carpentier says. “Not fully comfortable yet, but it’s a lot better than Monday morning.”
Another NASCAR newcomer is getting his baptism under fire, Dario Franchitti: “In the afternoons, when the track gets really slick, the car is moving around a lot more, and the thing I’m getting used to is fighting the limit of this car.
“That’s the next project, just to get used to that. We’ve been thrown in the deep end coming to one of the fastest 1-1/2-mile tracks and having never driven a car-of-tomorrow…or a Cup car of any kind on a track like this.
“It’s certainly been a learning experience.”
Car owner Bill Davis confirmed last night his Arkansas trucking firm has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, saying the move
“was necessitated by an injury accident and an ensuing lawsuit against the company.
“This has been a very unfortunate chain of events, and Gail (his wife and co-owner) and I certainly hate that it ever had to happen.
“Bill Davis Trucking and Bill Davis Racing are two completely separate entities, and the race team will in no way be affected.”
Bruton Smith says he plans to have some extensive discussions with top NASCAR executives about changes he thinks the sanctioning needs to make. And Smith says he’s somewhat optimistic.
“Next season we’ll see a softer side of NASCAR,” Smith predicts. “If Jeff Gordon gets out of his car and shoves somebody, don’t give a big fine.
“Remember when A.J. Foyt would win the race and still go out to whip your butt?
“Those things helped to build this sport. We need some of that. I hope it doesn’t sound wrong. But I like for people to show their emotions.
“Fining drivers just turns the fans off.
“And winning is everything in any sport: So we need to put more money on the nose, on the winner. That’s another recommendation I have for NASCAR.
“Putting a bunch of money on 43rd place is an absolute joke and we should end that.
“Whatever the total purse is, the winner should get 18 percent.”
That would make most races pay about $1 million to win.
“Say the winner gets $900,000 to $1 million,” Smith says. “Then drop it down to $400,000 for second place. You know those guys would be trying to win.
“Those are some of the things we need to do. We’ve been tweaking this sport but tweaking it in the wrong direction.”
Don’t even think about asking promoter Bruton Smith to rethink how NASCAR’s TV billions are split up – 10 percent straight to NASCAR; 25 percent to all the tour teams, well over 40, through the purse; and a whopping 65 percent to the track owners.
“I hope that day never comes,” Smith says of any redistribution. “Because you must remember we’re not out there with the taxpayers’ money.“We do all this with private capital.
“And these speedways all need things. And things cost money. At Vegas we just spent $40 million. We spent $92 million to upgrade Infineon (Sonoma)….and it took me $1.5 million just to deal with the red-legged frogs. And I haven’t seen a red-legged frog yet.
“When you’re spending those kinds of dollars….”