With the Chase for the Championship less than a month away, race teams have back-loading their test sessions to get ready for the playoffs. But for some, is it too little, too late?
NASCAR’s rules limiting tests forced teams to make tough decisions earlier this season. Should they test at tracks that could help them make the final cut for the Chase, or should they concentrate on tracks in the playoffs?
“We definitely saved our testing more so,” Jeff Gordon said. “I think earlier in the season we felt like we were pretty happy about where we stood. We felt like we had some things in the pipeline that were going to be better for us that we were working on. [We] kind of wanted to save those tests for getting closer to the Chase, when we were kind of honing in on what kind of race cars we were going to have towards the later part of the season.”
With so many drivers on or near the bubble to qualify for the Chase, some race organizations decided to use one of their four allotted tests this week at the Richmond International Raceway.
Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing all have drivers who are making a desperate push in the final three races of the regular season to make the Chase. The Sept. 7 race at Richmond is the last race before the playoffs start, so all three organizations put a lot of resources into that race.
“They’re all very important,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. “You can’t really give up any (points), you can’t take a race off and you can’t have a bad event so you need to be prepared for each one and the average finish to win a championship has to definitely under seventh spot, so that means you have to finish good everywhere.”
NASCAR changed its testing policy this year, allowing each organization to test at four NASCAR-sanctioned tracks. Most teams waited until the end of the season to pick their tracks, and that’s created a whirlwind of business for tracks in the stretch drive.
Earnhardt, Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne all were in Richmond this week for Hendrick Motorsports. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski were there for Penske Racing, and Martin Truex Jr., A.J. Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer and Casey Mears were there for Michael Waltrip Racing.
Gordon, Kahne, Logano, Keselowski, Truex and Earnhardt all are in a battle to qualify as a top 10 driver or as a wild card entry.
Johnson already has clinched a spot in the playoffs, but he still was at Richmond to help his teammates.
“Well, with the new rules, when you get a test all the teams go,” Earnhardt said. “That’s the way the rules are this year. We test as a company with the new rules. So if the 5 car (Kahne) thinks he needs to get better at a certain track and he wants to test there, we all kind of agree to it because we all got to go whether we agree to it or not.”
Other test sessions involving other championship-caliber teams are scheduled for Chicagoland Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
Hendrick teams scheduled tests at New Hampshire and Texas.
“We have been preserving our tests waiting for the right strategy and trying to think what is best for the company, what gives the company the best opportunity to win a championship,” Johnson said. “Clearly testing at Chase tracks is the best thing for that.”
For his teammates, however, testing at pre-Chase tracks now is a priority. That means Johnson has to make sacrifices for the sake of the entire company.
“You have to test as an organization,” Johnson said. “So to get all four drivers and crew chiefs to agree on what are the most important tracks we all have to compromise a little bit. Strategically we wanted to save some tests around the end of the regular season in case we had someone on the fence there and needed to get them into the Chase.”
But for some teams, is it too little, too late?