The look was decidedly different — sleeker and yet more traditional — as cars took to the track at Talladega Superspeedway on a chilly, overcast Tuesday morning.
All told, 24 Sprint Cup teams tested the new spoiler-equipped version of NASCAR's Cup car on Tuesday, following the sanctioning body's recent decision to return from the non-traditional wing to the spoiler in time for the March 28 Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville.
Though there was little or no dissenting opinion as to the appearance of the car, drivers say there's still much to learn about the performance of the spoiler, even after cars drafted together at the 2.66-mile restrictor-plate track during the afternoon session.
A number of questions will remain unanswered until a scheduled full-field test March 23-24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"The balance is really what we're interested in — how much the balance is going to change versus just overall grip," four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon said during Tuesday's lunch break. "If it plants the back of the car too much, we're just out of tools to make the front of the car work in the turns. But we're kind of hoping that it actually helps the front of the car turn a little bit, too.
"So I'm very anxious to get to Charlotte. This test is really what's going to happen in the draft. … When we get to Charlotte I think is when we're going to find out what a spoiler really does in comparison to a wing."
From NASCAR's standpoint, Tuesday's action on the track also was designed to help establish a variety of performance specifications for the Aaron's 499, which will be run April 25 at Talladega. Cars opened the test session with restrictor plates whose holes measured 66/64ths inches, 7/64 inches wider than the holes in the plates used for last October's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega.
By the end of the test session, NASCAR had narrowed the openings to 62/64 inches to reduce speeds the cars were running in the draft. Because closing rates appeared to increase dramatically over the winged cars, NASCAR also instructed teams to cut the top portion of the spoiler on either side, where the width was greatest.
"A lot of the spoiler trimming we did this afternoon was to give the teams back the ability to stay with their competitors and have the confidence that as they race, they could not only stay with the draft but have enough closure speed and horsepower to successfully pass each other," NASCAR managing director of competition John Darby said. "I think we've got a very good starting point to go home with, maybe fine-tune on a little bit and come back here and have a great Talladega race in April."
Though Gordon thought teams had gotten a firm handle on the winged car since its introduction to the Cup series in 2007, he was optimistic about the prospects for the spoiler version.
"I feel like really over the last year, we've really gotten this car dialed in good," he said. "I think we've learned a lot about how to make it work well and race well. So, you know, this is a change. I'm hoping and thinking that it's going to be a change for the better. But I'm very supportive of it, open to it."
Darby said that the final restrictor-plate size and package that will be used at Talladega would be sent to the teams "probably within a week to ten days."