NASCAR Preseason testing at Las Vegas a must for circuit's top teams

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) -- New tires and some new aerodynamics rules have turned the annual preseason test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway into a must for most of the top NASCAR teams.
"It's going to be important for everybody," said Ryan Pemberton, crew chief for Joe Nemechek.
"We're going to learn a lot about the new rules, the bodies, where we're at and what direction we need to go in -- if we need to make more downforce or take some downforce off the front or what."
The four days of testing on the 11/2-mile LVMS oval, scheduled to begin today, will be different than the work that has been going on the last two weeks at Daytona International Speedway, where the new rules, cutting three-quarters of an inch off the rear spoilers -- do not come into play because of the use of carburetor restrictor plates to slow the cars on the big track.
For intermediate tracks
The majority of the races on the 36-race schedule are run on the so-called intermediate tracks -- 11/2- or 2-mile ovals -- like Las Vegas, and everyone wants to know what the combination of softer tires, the shorter rear spoilers to cut downforce and several new templates to make the cars less aerodynamic will do.
John Darby, the series competition director, who notes it is the biggest overall change in many years, says NASCAR's goal is to lessen dependence by the teams on aerodynamics to keep the cars pinned to the track and to promote side-by-side racing and offer faster cars a better chance to pass slower cars.
And more changes are likely to come as NASCAR evaluates the situation.
"The changes will be small enough and slow enough that we won't see a drastic difference on the racetrack," Darby said.
Some veteran crew chiefs expect the biggest change will be in tire management.
Goodyear has new tire
For the last few years, Goodyear, which is the sole supplier of tires for NASCAR's top series, has brought a tire to the track that has shown little wear under normal circumstances.
That has allowed crew chiefs to decide on changing only two tires or no tires on many pit stops and has put a premium on fuel mileage. Fuel management races can be tedious and not very exciting.
"If it does what they say it's going to do, it's definitely going to cut out some of the fuel mileage races," said Matt Borland, crew chief for Ryan Newman, who won eight races in 2003, several of them by stretching fuel.
"It might change the setups around quite a bit," Borland said. "We haven't had a chance to get on the new tire a lot this year. We're going to have to wait and see how it plays out and do our homework after each race. We've got to figure out what advantages we can take with it and what to watch out for."
The new tires, which will have a variety of different rubber compounds and constructions based on the tracks at which they run, should make tire management important again.
"It will be, hopefully, back to the days of the driver that maybe abuses his right front tire and now has a push because he ran the right front tire off the car instead of the lack of air holding the right front tire together," Darby said.
Get feel for draft
Another difference at the Las Vegas test is that cars may actually run close together at times -- a rarity in testing.
"Every now and then at Daytona, you get in a little draft in practice," Pemberton said. "Typically, we haven't done that in past but I wouldn't be surprised at Vegas if some of the drivers want to get together and stick it side-by-side, nose-to-tail a few laps to kind of feel their cars out and see where we're at. It is a big change from last year."