DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The new rules that were supposed to make cars more difficult to drive turned out to be not so bad after all.
Most preseason tests at Las Vegas Motor Speedway attract 20 teams. This week's workout attracted 43.
NASCAR cut an inch off the rear spoiler and prompted the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. to use a softer rubber compound this year, so teams were frantic to see how the rules would affect their cars. What they've learned so far is the difference is hardly noticeable.
"I feel like we were not far off of where we were last year," Jeff Gordon said.
The lower rear spoiler reduces the amount of lift in the front end to help the car turn in the corners. By reducing downforce on the rear wheels, NASCAR hoped to create more downforce on the front wheels to help eliminate a condition known as "aero-push." That's when the front wheels won't grip in the turns, much like trying to turn a car on ice.
Without downforce, everyone expected the rear wheels to lose grip - a condition known as being "loose." What they found, however, was a more stable car.
"All I can tell you is my car feels great," Rusty Wallace said. "I believe it's going to be better; I really do."
Ryan Newman said he likes the changes because it puts more of the car's success in the hands of the driver, not engineers.
"In the end, it should put more of the driver back in the car, but it'll also mean the team will have to do their job as far as building a good car balance so the driver can work with it," he said. "It's different for everybody, but we're getting more comfortable with it."
FISHER SIGNS WITH RCR: Sarah Fisher, a three-time most popular driver on the IRL Indy Car Series, is moving to stock cars and Richard Childress Racing.
She signed a developmental deal with RCR and will race on the Grand National Series West Division this year with hopes of earning a ride with Childress in NASCAR.
RUNNING FOR CHARITY: Michael Waltrip's appearance in the Las Vegas Marathon on Sunday raised more than $800,000 for the Victory Junction Gang Camp.
To show his appreciation for the donation, camp founder Kyle Petty also ran the course in four hours, 16 minutes.
"Few things in life have I conceded kicked my rear end, but that was one of them," Petty said. "What Michael did was phenomenal. I thought I did pretty good for my first marathon."
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org