HOMESTEAD — NASCAR's 2009 ban on testing at tracks hosting national touring series events was warily praised in the garage on Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But teams were already speculating — as they do with any rules change — on how to work around it.
As the economy squeezes the sport's finances ever tighter, NASCAR hopes to curtail costs for teams that spend upward of $100,000 per day testing.
"I think it's warranted based on the significant times that we've got in front of us," said NASCAR president Mike Helton.
Driver Jeff Burton was concerned about a possible effect on competition, but admitted that drastic action might be warranted. The concern among teams is that without testing — which provides data about particular tracks preceding a race there — the quality of competition could suffer. Teams that are behind catch up by testing. They can still pay to use facilities that do not host top-three series races, but the information gained is not as valuable.
"I've never been part of a sport where testing was banned. So I'm not sure of the consequences of that," Burton said. "I do believe that testing is a way for a struggling team to improve but I also believe that we're in severe times and we need to have severe actions."
Ray Evernham, minority owner of Gillett Everham Motorsports, said two key factors will determine whether the policy is effective.
"The No. 1 priority should always be good competition, because if we don't have good competition, you don't have people in the grandstands," he said. "No. 2, obviously, is economics. NASCAR's got to take a responsibility because racers will put themselves into extinction. If I had the most money, I'm going to do what's the best for me."
The ban is to take effect Jan. 1, and driver Jeff Gordon joked with crew chief Steve Letarte inside his hauler on Friday that they would spend December testing.
Team owner Rick Hendrick advocates using data acquisition telemetry on Friday of each race weekend as mini tests. That plan would require a major shift in stance, however, considering NASCAR's institutional resistance to using such technology on race weekends. The concern, said retired driver Dale Jarrett, is that teams would find ways to use devices like illegal traction control.
TEAM CHIP 'N' DALE: General Motors NASCAR field director Pat Suhy said Dale Earnhardt Inc. has not told him if it wishes to continue using Chevy engines when it merges with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2009. Ganassi is a Dodge affiliate.
"It doesn't matter what I want them to be," Suhy said. "They need to make a decision on their own needs and what kind of support they can get from either organization and what they think is in their best interests."
DEI vice president of motorsports operations John Story declined comment on the merger "until we've communicated with the employees."
The new DEI/Ganassi hybrid, a collaboration of two organizations that collectively have 10 wins since 2004 (six by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2004), will use drivers Aric Almirola, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex and an unnamed fourth in 2009.