HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Dealing with a crumbling economy, NASCAR announced a major move Friday morning by banning testing at all tracks that host Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Truck Series and Weekly Racing Series races for 2009.
Crew chiefs were told of the ban, which includes the season-opening Daytona 500, earlier Friday morning at Homestead-Miami Speedway, site of Ford Championship Weekend. The move drew a strong reaction from the competitors, including Jimmie Johnson as he closes in on his third-straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in Sunday's Ford 400.
"I think it's a mistake," Johnson said. "I think the teams need a chance to work on their cars to improve their programs and work on the show. If we had this rule this year, with all the development work that needed to be done on this car, we wouldn't be where we are today. I do understand that we need to cut expenses."
By eliminating testing, NASCAR is restricting a valuable yet expensive tool. According to NASCAR vice president of corporate communications Jim Hunter, the elimination of testing will save teams $35 million to $40 million. It will make track time and Friday practice very important on race weekends.
"I'm shocked that we won't test at Daytona," Jeff Burton said. "I always believed, even if we had a testing ban, we would test at Daytona because, I don't know, it's always been what we've done.
"I agree with the policy, but at the same time I'm nervous about it because I think testing makes me better. I think it makes my team better. I've never done a year without testing. We will, as a sport, have to find a way to create some energy over the winter and I'm sure we'll do that in some form or fashion."
Eliminating testing is a great first step to save money but NASCAR should consider having Friday as an open-test, where teams are able to put data acquisition on board and use that data to understand the changes that need to be made on the car. Teams would then take the data acquisition equipment off the cars, with qualifications to Saturday morning and the race on Sunday for most weekends.
"I feel a good compromise of the two would be to allow the teams to run data acquisition on Friday," Johnson said. "We can get it off the cars, adjust the schedule and make it work to allow these teams to collect data to make these cars better. That doesn't look like it will be the case, so now we'll have to focus on other ways to collect data or create simulation programs or machines to simulate on-track activity."
Teams will also test at other race tracks, such as North Carolina in Rockingham, or smaller race tracks in Sandusky, Ohio, and Lakeland, Fla., in an attempt to stay ahead of the competition.
NASCAR teams were allowed to do that this season but were prohibited from using Goodyear tires. That meant teams had to use Hoosier tires, which didn't necessarily translate to the setup of the car.
Another problem with the new arrangement is teams will still spend money in an uncontrolled testing environment. "We will test at tracks that may not work on tires we won't race on to try to find a baseline," Johnson said. "It's going to slow things down and make it more expensive and limit some guys, but we still have to get on the track and work."
Said Carl Edwards, As far as the testing is concerned, I think it's a great move by NASCAR. I think that gives a little bit of relief to the teams, as far as expenses, and the team owners. That's a good thing. It'll make it a little easier on all the guys.
"I believe competitively, it's just like Jeff Burton was saying earlier, as long as everyone operates under the same rules, you're going to have nearly the same competition, whether you can test every day of the year or not test at all. So I don't think the fans will see any difference. I think it just possibly can make it less expensive for the owners, which is good."
Less expensive, yes, but no one can deny that the elimination of preseason testing at Daytona International will have a dramatic impact on the landscape of the sport. There won't be days of testing for news outlets to film for advance buildup to the Daytona 500.
Teams won't have much to talk about as they prepare for the season because they simply won't know what is going to happen until they hit the actual race track.
Remember also that preseason testing is an important tool to sell tickets and generate enthusiasm for NASCAR's biggest event.
The testing ban could end up having an adverse effect on the sport with the rich teams such as Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway being able to more readily afford traveling around the country to test at non-sanctioned tracks while smaller teams may not be able to rent track time at those facilities.
"NASCAR has had a difficult time figuring out the right thing," Johnson said. "At the end of the day, speed equals dollars. It always has been the formula in racing. It's the way it works."
But as the stock market continues to shrink and workers lose their jobs, NASCAR felt it had to react to the changing economic climate.
"NASCAR is basically protecting us from ourselves," said Ray Evernham, who currently owns 20 percent of Gillett Evernham Motorsports but is considering selling the rest of his stake to primary owner George Gillett. "I think it's good on NASCAR's part they are making an attempt. At a time where costs need to be reduced, they are taking some action. I'm sure with any other change there will be some adjustments, but one of the biggest costs is testing."
Evernham said on a per test basis, even team spends between $65,000 to $70,000.
The ban will also make teams that are invited to participate in Goodyear tire tests that much more valuable. Evernham would like to see a retired driver, such as Rusty Wallace, do the tire tests so that active teams and drivers don't get an advantage from the Goodyear tests.