By Steve Mickey
Last season NASCAR introduced a new method of testing in the Sprint Cup Series that did away with private testing and focused on a more unified testing schedule that featured Goodyear tire tests that were often followed by an open day of testing. The sanctioning body also scheduled extra practice time at certain tracks last season to give each team the opportunity to fine tune their cars to the new 2015 rules package.
The first Goodyear tire test of the new season is scheduled to take place this Tuesday and Wednesday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Four teams including #48-Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports), #41-Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing), #2 Brad Keselowski (Penske Racing) and #20-Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing) will all participate at the mile and a half track.
The test will allow Goodyear to gather data that will help the tire manufacturer decide on tire compounds that are used at the various tracks on the schedule. The teams participating in the test represent all three of the manufacturers that compete in the series and it will be important that each bring back as much information possible about how their cars react to the 2016 rules package that will be used at every track with the exception of Daytona and Talladega.
This will be a similar rules package that was used at Kentucky last season that received a very positive reaction from both the drivers and the fans that loved the close racing it created. This new package will include a 3.5-inch spoiler which is a decrease from the 6-inch spoiler used last season. The leading edge of the front splitter will also see a reduction as it will now be a .25-inch edge compared to two inches last season. The last major change that will change the downforce of the car will take place with the width of the radiator pan. Last season the width was 38-inches and that will be reduced to 33-inches.
Since the changes in the aero package this season will affect the speed of the cars, NASCAR will also adjust rear gear ratios in order to maintain 9,000 rpm maximum engine speeds. The test will also give both the teams and crews some time to work out any problems with the digital dash display that becomes mandatory this season.
ROUSH FENWAY UPATE: In last week’s column, I covered the changes that had taken place at Roush Fenway in their attempt to once again become competitive in the series. The organization announced this week that long time Roush Fenway crew chief Bob Osborne will take over the crew chief duties for Chris Buescher’s in his rookie year with Front Row Motorsports. Osborne makes the move after being crew chief for Roush’s Trevor Bayne last season. Osborne teamed up with Carl Edwards when he was at RFR and the two produced 18 wins and 86 top-five finishes. Bayne will now have Matt Puccia as his crew chief this season. Puccia makes the move over to Bayne after spending the last five years on RFR’s Greg Biffle’s team.
NUMBERS GAME: Some drivers are forever linked with numbers and it could be that we will see the reuniting of a number and a family before this season gets underway. Although it is not official, pictures of Richard Petty Motorsports’ Ford that will be driven for the first time this season by Brian Scott has the #44 on its door instead of the #9 used last season. If Petty has given up the #9, it raises the question on whether or not Hendrick Motorsports will attempt to secure the number. Chase Elliott will be taking over for Jeff Gordon in HMS’s fabled #24 and that number will forever be linked with Gordon. The #9 makes sense as a replacement as Elliott won the Xfinity title using the #9 but maybe the biggest reason is that it is the number used by his father, former Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott.