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Testing nearing finish line

NASCAR says ban will go into effect in Jan.

JIMMIE JOHNSONIn favor of testing JIMMIE JOHNSONIn favor of testing
By Michael Vega
November 15, 2008
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HOMESTEAD, Fla. - In a cost-cutting initiative reflective of the nation's economic climate, NASCAR officials yesterday announced a ban on testing that is expected to provide a savings of a reported $30 million-$40 million.

Effective Jan. 1, NASCAR will no longer permit testing by its teams at sanctioned tracks that stage Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series races, as well as Camping World East and West events.

While NASCAR has been perceived as a prosperous sport that enjoyed unbridled growth over the last two decades, it was not immune to the economic concerns of its teams, sponsors, and manufacturers.

"I think this decision is symbolic of NASCAR working with the industry," said NASCAR president Mike Helton. "Particularly the team owners and the crew members and coming up with a procedure or a policy that allows teams and crews and stakeholders in the sport to make decisions for themselves as to how to go forward, but in the meantime protect the quality of what goes on the racetrack because, at the end of the day, you don't want to cut into the muscle."

According to car owner Rick Hendrick, some teams spent "as much as $700,000, $800,000 to $1 million a team, depending on how much you test."

Although his track stood to lose revenue produced by test sessions, and the opportunity to publicize upcoming races, Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, applauded NASCAR's decision.

"Anything we can do to save money in this sport is going to be a good thing," Gappens said.

Even if it came at the expense of publicizing one of his two Sprint Cup dates?

"That's one of the side effects," Gappens said. "We did take advantage of testing to publicize events. If you look at all the [Speedway Motorsports Inc.] tracks, that's what we are; we're promoters. It's up to us to promote and sell tickets. It's not NASCAR's responsibility. The benefits of not testing far outweighs any negative effect of losing publicity tied into any event."

Two-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson opposed the testing ban, saying had it been put into effect this season his team may not have had the opportunity to recover from its sluggish start.

"I think it's a mistake," said Johnson, who spent four of the first five weeks outside the top 12 in points. "I think teams need a chance to work on their cars, to improve their programs, to put on a better show. If we had this rule at the start of this year, with all the development work that needed to be done with the car, not only for the No. 48 team but the whole series, I don't think we'd be where we are today."

Johnson needs to finish 36th or better in tomorrow's Ford 400 to become only the second driver (Cale Yarborough 1976-78) to win three consecutive NASCAR titles. Johnson, however, will first have to overcome a poor qualifying effort that left him 30th in the 43-car grid behind the Toyota of pole-sitter David Reutimann. Carl Edwards, Johnson's only viable challenger in the Chase for the Championship, will start fourth.

"I do understand and recognize that we need to cut expenses," Johnson said. "I feel a good compromise would be to allow the teams to run data acquisitions on Friday [of race weekends]. We can get it off the cars, we can adjust the schedule, and make it work and let the teams have a chance to collect data to make these cars better."

Helton indicated NASCAR would take that suggestion under advisement while continuing to allow Goodyear to conduct tire tests, "to be sure that we've got the right tires at race time," he said. Helton rejected the notion of creating a separate tire test team, saying he preferred the competitors to participate in those tests.

"We have been working with Goodyear to try and spread that out and make it fair," Helton said. "I think we still are best served by the active teams and drivers in the garage area doing the tire tests, because those are the ones who will be using the tire, and they're the ones who know, hopefully, how to put the tire through the proper tests to come up with the right answer when it comes time for us to have the tire on the racetrack."

Final laps
Tomorrow's race will mark the last for Tony Stewart in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota and his last with Greg Zipadelli, ending NASCAR's longest-running association between a driver and crew chief. Stewart will depart to head up his own two-car team, Stewart Haas Racing, after driving 10 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, where he earned 33 victories and won NASCAR titles in 2002 and 2005. "It's a hard weekend for all of us," Stewart said. "It seems like we are putting a lot of pressure on ourselves because we want to end on a good note. We don't want to end with a wreck or a 35th-place finish. This is a weekend where we want to have a good run and show everybody how we got where we are after 10 years." . . . Chad Knaus of the No. 48 was recognized as the Crew Chief of the Year by a three-member panel of his peers, which included Edwards's crew chief, Bob Osborne. "To say that I was able to accomplish this on my own would be foolish," said Knaus, who was presented with a trophy and a $20,000 check. "Obviously, I've got a great organization with Hendrick Motorsports and obviously the No. 48 team does just an impeccable job." . . . Johnny Benson made the most of his last turn behind the wheel of the No. 23 Toyota Tundra fielded by Bill Davis Racing by winning his first Craftsman Truck Series championship last night. "Words can't describe this," said Benson, who finished seventh in the season-ending Ford 200, one spot ahead of Ron Hornaday Jr. to win the title by 7 points (3,725-3,718). "When we started this deal, the goal was to get a championship, so this is for Bill Davis. He deserves this." Benson took advantage of a controversial call by Hornaday's crew chief, Rick Ren, to pit under caution for four tires with eight laps to go. Benson stayed on the track and moved up two spots to sixth. Hornaday, meanwhile, dropped to 13th when the race resumed with five laps to go. Two laps later, a final yellow came out, setting up a green-white-checkered finish that propelled Todd Bodine, winner of the season-opening race at Daytona, to victory. "I was more frustrated that my radio went out because I wanted to stay out and they were screaming for me to come in," Hornaday said. And if his radio had not malfunctioned? "I would've stayed out," Hornaday said. "I would've told 'em my truck was good enough to stay out. If we would've won it, it would've been the call of the century."

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