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Texas Motor Speedway and The Spoiler

16 April 2010


They are just pieces of sheet metal. About 4 inches high, 3/16ths of an inch thick, 64 inches long, straight across the top. But a lot of eyes will be trained on them this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway because a lot of hopes are being attached to them.

Spoilers—oddly named because many in and around NASCAR are praying they will be saviors—get the test that millions have been waiting for in Sunday's Samsung Mobile 500 Sprint Cup Series race.

Among those millions are 40-some drivers.

“I'm a little perplexed about it,” Jeff Burton said of racing on a 1.5-mile track for the first time—again—with a spoiler, “and really am looking forward to seeing what happens this weekend because I think it will be a great learning experience.”

Spoilers have been reintroduced to the Cup cars in hopes they will produce better racing—that is, racing with more passing, more side-by-side competition and more lead changes. They have replaced the rear wings, which were the signature physical feature of the Cars of Tomorrow.

Spoilers have been used in two tests on 1.5-mile tracks—Texas and Charlotte—and in the past three races. But tests are not races, and the past three races were at short tracks Bristol, Martinsville and Phoenix.

After each of the tests and races, drivers of the spoiler-clad cars were pulled aside and asked: Well?

The standard answer has been: Wait until race day at Texas. Spoilers are more important on bigger tracks because more grip is needed to provide stability at faster speeds.

“This will finally be the test, the real test that is, of the NASCAR-mandated change to the (rear) deck spoiler from the old wing configuration,” said Howard Comstock of Dodge Motorsports Engineering. “We've run the spoiler on the 95 mph Martinsville track, and we've run the spoiler on the 130 mph Phoenix track, but none of that will have prepared anybody for the effect we'll see on the 190 mph Texas Motor Speedway. It will be interesting.”

So, next week, NASCAR-types will be able to talk in certain terms about the return to the vertical blades and their effect on the quality of racing on the sport's most prevalent type of track—15 of the series' 36 races are on intermediate tracks (1.5- and 2-mile ovals).

But that did not stop competitors from offering up hopes and predictions about spoilers on speedways this week.

Burton was a high-hoper.

“The biggest thing I'm interested in is what happens when you get behind another car,” said Burton, a two-time winner at Texas. “There were times on Saturday night (at Phoenix) that I thought it was harder to pass with the spoiler. (Yet) we passed more cars than I ever remember passing there. ... So part of me says, 'Wow, it seemed like it was hard to pass.' But the evidence says I passed a tremendous amount of cars.”

Alba Colon, GM Racing's Sprint Cup program manager, said she thinks Burton's question about how the cars will react when they get in lines should be answered positively at TMS.

“The spoiler adds drag to the car,” Colon said, “so there is potential that they will be able to draft up on each other and pass easier than they could with the lower-drag wing. How the balance will change when the cars are nose-to-tail with the spoiler is a big question that we probably won't be able to answer until the racing begins at Texas.”

Four-time series champion Jimmie Johnson is more cautious in his assessment. He raised the specter of competition-ravaging “aero push,” where downforce on the front wheels is lessened to the point where it becomes tougher for the drivers to turn the car.

“The leader (at Phoenix) clearly had control of the race, and there wasn't very many passes for the lead,” Johnson said. “That might be something to look at going to Texas. The wing was put on the cars to allow the air to run under the wing and get lower so that the cars behind had air lower and wouldn't pick up the nose sooner and create more down force for them. The way the spoiler is designed, it picks it up higher so there's a chance that pocket of air behind the car is larger and won't allow us to get as close to one another in single-file racing.”

Technical? Yes. But come Sunday, fans won't need a professor—or a driver—standing at a dry-erase board offering an explanation. It'll be right there on the racetrack. Finally.


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