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Sports Sports Columns Jeff Birchfield NASCAR/Racing

New rules bring out aggressive nature

March 14th, 2014 7:09 pm by Jeff Birchfield

New rules bring out aggressive nature

BRISTOL — New tires and new rules equals more crashes.

It didn’t take long for the first caution to fly in Friday afternoon’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Four minutes to be exact before Danica Patrick lost control of her No. 10 Chevrolet and collected the No. 30 of Parker Kligerman in a wreck which sent both drivers to back-up cars.

However, they weren’t alone in leaving the first practice session with torn-up race cars.

With Goodyear bringing new tires to race in this Sunday’s Food City 500 and NASCAR’s new rules which place a greater emphasis on winning races, drivers were already going all on Friday.

The result was some of the top drivers in the sport went beyond the limits and ended up wrecked.

Before the practice session ended, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all had hit the wall. 

Biffle’s crash was the most significant.

He lost the front end of the No. 16 Ford coming off turn four and when he tried to correct it, the car wiggled and then it shot down to bounce off the inside retaining wall.

His Roush-Fenway Racing crew immediately knew it was big trouble. Just minutes later, they pulled his back-up car out of the transporter.

Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, didn’t tear up anything in the practice session. Still, he had a good idea why his competitors were struggling so mightly.

“We sat there and watched a few guys crash,” Newman said. “It seems like the cars are really, really sensitive to some changes just because the cars are so stiff now because of the rigidity of how we’re running them. Once you lose it, you really lose it; which is kind of what we’ve seen. More aerodynamic-related at other race tracks; but here, more mechanical-related.”

Newman added his team noticed chunks of rubber forming and coming off the tires more than in recent years. Goodyear brought a much different tire compound to Bristol than a concrete-specific tire they brought in the past.

When a race car gets on the rubber marbles which come off the tires, it’s virtually the same as hitting gravel in a street car. There isn’t the control one has driving on dry pavement.

On a tight oval like Bristol, it also cuts down the amount of race track which drivers can use. 

A driver’s car often skates up the track when it hits the marbles. It can cause the driver to lose momentum and lose confidence for a few laps, or even worse case slide up to the wall and tear up the car.

“When it marbles-up and you get up into the marbles, it takes two or three laps sometimes to get back going again,” Newman explained. “And that’s sometimes 20 or 30 positions. You want to have the confidence in the race track and your race car to be able to put it anywhere so that you can pass at any time. Obviously, the track is pretty narrow. So, giving us the ability to move around is a good thing.”

There is only so much room a driver has to move around with the marbles.

Newman said the track itself is good, but if a driver gets out of the groove, it can be Katy bar the door. He explained though it is the driver’s job to test the limit without hopefully going over it.

“Oh, there’s a lot of grip,” Newman said about the racing groove. “Once you lose that grip, it’s gone. That’s a full slide. You have to run it right there on the edge to kind of feel it.”

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