AVONDALE, Ariz. — NASCAR’s 2013 race cars are, quite literally, down to the nuts and bolts.
With all three manufacturers — Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota — having hit the hard points with respect to the cars’ bodies, it’s simply a matter of defining the bolt-on parts.
On second thought, it’s not quite that simple. The bolt-on parts — the splitter, underbody and rear spoiler — are integral to defining the aerodynamic properties of the new generations of cars.
That’s why NASCAR has been testing the new models at every available opportunity in an attempt to refine the handling characteristics of the 2013 cars, particularly their behavior in traffic.
“When we hand this car off, we want to be better than where we are today,” NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said Friday. “We feel like we’re pretty good today, but we know that there are things we need to work on, and a lot of that’s based around traffic situations and how the cars react in that.
“We know that the teams are going to gain, but we want to give them a better starting place. That’s why we’re working so hard on it.”
NASCAR has tested a multitude of variables at recent sessions at Kansas, Texas, Phoenix and Charlotte. The tests are both a process of discovering what works and eliminating what doesn’t.
“There’s a lot of things that we’re doing that we know that won’t stick, but what we want to do is, when people come to us when we’re all done and say, ‘Did you think about this?’ or ‘Why did you try this?’ or why you did or why you didn’t, we can go over our testing and the results of a lot of things we’ve done,” Pemberton said.
“We have been from low downforce to what we thought was high mechanical grip to increased (aerodynamic) grip and tried to work on the balance of the car in traffic and things of that nature. That’s where we’ve been for most of the year.”
After an initial 2013 car test at Homestead last year, NASCAR has experimented with lower downforce (by as much as 30 to 40 percent) and lower horsepower (by as much as 200 hp). The October test at Texas combined the highest speeds with the lowest downforce.
Two more open tests are scheduled, both at Charlotte, Dec. 11-12, and Jan. 17-18. Those won’t count against the four-test limit per organization at NASCAR tracks.
In addition, NASCAR will test restrictor-plate superspeedway cars during Preseason Thunder sessions Jan. 10-12 at Daytona. The restrictor-plate cars have been tested once before at Talladega.
Tire maker Goodyear and NASCAR have worked closely at the test sessions, and for good reason. Goodyear can’t build tires for the new car until NASCAR finalizes the specifications.
“I think NASCAR’s doing a good job of trying a whole spectrum of different things, and they’re getting a lot of input from us, a lot of input from the teams, listening to drivers, crew chiefs and so on, and trying to react to that,” Stu Grant, Goodyear’s manager of worldwide racing, told the NASCAR Wire Service.
“Hopefully, we’ll end up with a rule package pretty quick, and we’ll start making tires.”
NASCAR is close to making those decisions.
“We’re only down to the bolt-on items right now,” Pemberton said. “We’re down to little bits and pieces of aluminum and spoilers and things like that. It’s the splitter — size and shape and features of that splitter. It’s the underbody, which is the belly pan or the tray in front of the radiator pan, and it’s the spoiler. We’re working on getting that balance, and the right balance in traffic.”
The goal, of course, is to end up with readily brand-identifiable cars (as is already the case) that are just as racy as they look.