In the face of a broadening economic crisis, NASCAR did the right thing in banning most testing for the 2009 season.
The clear intention is to save money in a climate where money is tighter than a race car with a severe push.
An unintended by-product of the action may be to engrave Jimmie Johnson's name on a fourth straight Sprint Cup championship trophy.
Ironically, Johnson opposes the very test ban that might help him to a record-setting title.
“We have to figure out how we can get good information,” Johnson said Sunday night after celebrating championship number three in victory lane. “Is that testing at small tracks? Is that more wind tunnel data? Is that more seven-post data (simulations of suspension dynamics)? We've got a lot of question marks, and we have to truly understand the rules to figure out how to get to work and develop our cars and make them better.”
From NASCAR's point of view, the rules are cut-and-dried: No teams in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series - or in the Camping World East and West regional touring series - will be allowed to test at racetracks that host any of those series.
Owner Jack Roush proposed extending the ban to all testing, even at non-NASCAR tracks, but that won't happen. Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs already indicated his Toyota teams probably will test at Rockingham Speedway, where owner Andy Hillenburg had the foresight to build a “mini-Martinsville” to complement the existing one-mile banked racetrack.
Rick Hendrick, who co-owns Johnson's #48 Chevrolet with driver Jeff Gordon, has been lobbying for data acquisition (telemetry) on Fridays at race weekends. Gibbs advocates more track time for rookies, a group that includes his own 18-year-old sensation, Joey Logano.
With NASCAR necessarily in a cost-cutting frame of mind, however, its unlikely race weekends in 2009 will look much different from race weekends in 2008. In the race for improved performance, frugality will win.
“At the end of the day, I think this rule is going to hurt a lot of people,” Johnson said. “I understand why, but I'm hopeful that things turn around and everybody has the opportunity to go to the track and work on their stuff - even if it's on Friday, and we can get data sets.
“I think it's going to hurt the show. In the bottom of my heart, I do. I understand that they're trying to keep the big teams from getting away, but everybody needs track time. If I was king for a day, I would do it differently.”
Consider, though, that the teams with the greatest resources are likely benefit from the rule because they can afford to explore other technological avenues. Listen to what Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, had to say Sunday night.