NASCAR clearly isn't the series for those who like long breaks between seasons: with the 2011 championship only decided at the end of November, teams and drivers are already getting back in gear and on track at Daytona International Speedway for three days of pre-season testing starting on Thursday.
There are more changes to the rules and equipment this year than most, beginning with the introduction to the series of the new electronic fuel injection systems.
There are also a large number of changes specific to superspeedway racing being rolled out, with NASCAR making a number of modifications to the rules for the big tracks in a bid to break up the prevalence of two-car tandem push-drafting that was much criticised in 2011.
"This is an opportunity we are providing to the competitors to implement and test the new Daytona rules package for 2012," said NASCAR's vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton.
"While we have had other tests with these setups, this is the first opportunity for the entire field to test together and get more comfortable with this package as it relates to their cars," he added.
The changes include:
- Reduction of the radiator grille openings from five gallon to two gallon;
- Halving the accumulator can to a half-gallon size, in a related bid to dramatically reduce the efficiency of cooling systems and force the cars to run in open air;
- Changing the location of the grille opening and moving it up into bumper fascia area, which will dramatically reduce air intake when cars are running closely together;
- In addition, there will be softer springs and a smaller rear spoiler;
- And finally, the baseline restrictor-plate size will now be set at 29/32ths of an inch, up 1/64th of an inch on the size allowed in the 2011 Daytona 500;
"It'll be a short number of laps, and they'll be peeking out a lot more," said Chris Paulson, whose company C&R Racing manufactures most of the radiators used in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition. "They certainly won't be able to do a sustained lap-after-lap run. I think that'll be taken care of."
"I think our goal is to reduce the differential, if you will, from the tandem car push to what we consider a normal drafting type of a race," explained Sprint Cup Series director John Darby of the thinking behind the changes.