In a perfect world, the performance of NASCAR's new Nationwide Series race-cars will match their aesthetics.

Based on the first superspeedway shakedown Monday at Talladega, that just might be the case.

NASCAR unveiled the new Chevrolet Impala, Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger and Toyota Camry on Saturday at the 2.66-mile racetrack. The cars drew strong reviews for their racy looks and distinctive lines.

On Monday, eight cars took to the asphalt, first in single-car runs and later drafting together in groups.

Four Chevrolet teams and drivers participated: Richard Childress Racing (Jeff Burton), Kevin Harvick Inc. (Kevin Harvick), JR Motorsports (Kelly Bires) and Phoenix Racing (James Buescher). The test roster also included two Roush Fenway Racing Fords (Colin Braun and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.), a Penske Racing Dodge (Justin Allgaier) and a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota (Trevor Bayne).

"Initially, (we got) very favourable comments," said Brett Bodine, NASCAR's director of cost research. "Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton were the first to go out in a little bit of a draft session, and one of the things that stuck in my mind was a comment that these cars race better in the draft than the current Nationwide car."

NASCAR started the session with a restrictor plate (designed to reduced airflow to the carburettor and thereby to reduce horsepower at superspeedways) whose holes measured 29/32nd of an inch. Throughout the early portions of the test, NASCAR experimented with different hole sizes, moving to one inch and then back to 31/32nds, as teams also tested different spring and suspension combinations.

"We wanted to start conservative, because this was the first time we've had these cars on a superspeedway," said Nationwide Series director Joe Balash. "So we put a tapered spacer on the car, and then we put a restrictor plate under the tapered spacer. ... We made a gear change along the way to work on the RPMs of the car. We're trying to balance our speeds and our RPMs.

"We want this engine package to be the same RPM ranges we race everywhere else."

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton was pleased with the early results.

"We've got a target to start shaking the cars down at 190 miles an hour and get our gears and restrictor plates as close as we can," he said. "None of that will be finalised, as far as that part of it goes, when we leave here. But it's to get enough speed in the cars, let the guys work on the chassis set-ups and, for a few of them, to do a little drafting out there and see how the cars react to the draft.

"We're in hopes that it should be different enough from the Cup car that it'll take a little bit different strategy when they get on the racetrack."

by Reid Spencer / Sporting News


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