HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NASCAR has suspended all testing at its sanctioned tracks next season in a cost-cutting measure that should help teams save several million dollars in their 2009 budgets.
The moratorium, announced Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, bans testing at any NASCAR-sanctioned track, including facilities where its low-level Camping World East and West series races.
“Hopefully, it’s a temporary situation,” said NASCAR president Mike Helton, who estimated the move will save “in the range of 10s of millions (of dollars) to the industry.”
The suspension is an about-face from just a few months ago, when NASCAR considered expanding the testing schedule to as many as 24 days at any track. It also includes the traditional “preseason” Daytona 500 testing, which NASCAR used to promote its season-opening showcase event.
“The ultimate decision was that the best-case scenario was no means no, and it being applied across the board for the entire season,” Helton said. “There are other ways we can promote the start of the season.”
Reaction was mixed among drivers, who generally loathe the midweek test sessions but value the data that’s gathered. Although Jimmie Johnson is poised to win his third consecutive Sprint Cup title in Sunday’s season finale, he struggled at the start of the year with NASCAR’s new car and used extensive testing to kickstart his season.
“I think it’s a mistake,” Johnson said. “I do understand and recognize that we need to cut expenses. … Now we’re going to need to focus on other ways to collect data or create simulation programs or machines to create on-track activity and then test at tracks that may not work and on tires we won’t race on and try to find a baseline.
“It’s going to slow things down and make it more expensive. We still have to get on the track. We still have to test. We cannot sit still.”
The testing ban comes as NASCAR is trying to cut costs to save struggling teams. Sponsorship dollars are extremely difficult to find, and several teams are in danger of folding if they can’t find a miracle or a merger.
Chip Ganassi Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. agreed this week to combine their teams next season, and the partnership resulted in 100-plus layoffs at DEI. The Wood Brothers, who have been in NASCAR since 1953, lost the Air Force as a sponsor this week when it said it was moving to Gillett Evernham Motorsports next year.
Furniture Row Racing, an independent one-car team based in Denver, Colo., said it will run a limited schedule in 2009. The Furniture Row company both owns the team and sponsors the No. 78 driven by Joe Nemechek.
Carl Edwards, who drives for Roush Fenway Racing’s five-car team, applauded the decision because of the immediate cost relief it will give teams.
“I think it gives a little bit of relief to the teams as far as expenses and the team owners,” Edwards said. “As long as everyone operates on the same rules, you are going to have nearly the same competition whether you can test every day of the year or not test at all.”
Estimates vary on how much testing actually costs. Rick Hendrick said it can run about a $1 million per car, while Ray Evernham said every test costs around $70,000.
“It is very, very expensive to go track testing,” Evernham said.
The current testing policy was seven tests over 15 days at tracks selected by NASCAR. Teams also could rent time at NASCAR tracks that don’t host Cup races — Nashville, Kentucky, Memphis — and were free to test at any facility not on the NASCAR schedule.
NASCAR can’t control teams from testing at tracks it doesn’t sanction, and Johnson was certain his Hendrick Motorsports team will put together a busy schedule at those facilities next year.
Helton said the ban is for a “pretty good community of race tracks,” but admitted the sanctioning body can’t stop teams from going to the handful of facilities it doesn’t govern.
“It’s more challenging, if not impossible, to have an enforcement element that we can lean on and utilize,” Helton said.
It creates an interesting dilemma for NASCAR, which also wants the second-tier teams to catch up to the super teams of Hendrick, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Those four organizations can and will test aggressively at non-NASCAR tracks, while teams short of cash may not be able to afford that luxury.
“At the end of the day, speed equals dollars. It’s the formula in racing, it’s the way it works,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, the only way we’re going to beat Roush, or Childress or Yates or Ganassi or any of the teams out there, is by finding more speed and technology and that takes money to do. No matter how you try to fold the rules, you can’t change that.
“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to win.”
Robbie Loomis, vice president of Petty Enterprises, said an additional worry is how the lack of additional track time will hurt rookie drivers.
“Rookies like (Joey) Logano need to spend a little bit more time in Nationwide, and I think a rule like this will make people look at them a little different before they bring their driver up,” Loomis said. “Jimmie Johnson was in Nationwide a couple years before he came to Cup. But when Jimmie Johnson came here, he was ready to go.”
Helton said NASCAR is studying several other ideas, including adding a day of track-time to the weekend schedule and giving rookies more practice time.