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Kligerman: NASCAR teams blowing money on an idea whose time has gone with the wind

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If I asked “What is the sport’s single biggest issue?” to 10 people in racing, nine would have a single-word reply.

Money.

The other would rant about something to the effect of “Better back in ’86! Cuz Earnnnnhardt! Real tracks! Real men! Marlboro Reds!” Anyone my age or 20 years my senior would agree out of fear but counter with a tepid smile and say, “The racing is better now.”

And it is, but for some reason I can’t explain, we continually self-inflict pain in the form of unnecessary expenditures.

Back in 2011, I was driving for Brad Keselowski Racing, which was then a small, upstart truck series team (it since has evolved into a major contender with significant Ford support). It was my first chance at a full-time ride in NASCAR.

The deal came together incredibly late for this young, naive, hopeful driver. The ride was supposed to go to someone who had more funding. I had fended them off using the incredible dark witchcraft of … a cell phone.

Months into the endeavor, our corporate helpers had arranged quite an exciting opportunity. Our small team would get “wind tunnel time,” which is how it works for most. The manufacturer buys a massive quantity of hours and then resells or allocates time to teams.

In modern-day racing, this is the equivalent of an Old West miner using a machine to sort through mountain sides. No guarantee of success, but he should be able to find gold a lot quicker.

But wind tunnel time is more expensive than gold. An hour in the more advanced of the two wind tunnels in Charlotte, N.C., can cost upward of $8,000.

The current price of an ounce of gold? $1,213

For my small team, it potentially meant discovering all the secret aerodynamic bits that the rest of the teams already knew. Our gold would come in the form of increased speed.

With very limited engineering staff, our team went to the wind tunnel. And as young drivers do to show we are willing to “learn,” I went along.

After what seemed an eternity of setup and calibration, the wind tunnel fired to life. About 3 minutes later, it all started to quiet down.

I had seen nothing. You couldn’t see the air. It was simply a loud noise. Then everything stopped.

We hovered around a small laptop to see the downforce numbers. To our dismay, the gains were nil. No worries, we had eight more hours to figure it out.

Over the next eight hours. I believe we found about a half-count of downforce. On the last run, I had grown angry as a 20-year-old driver who put everything on the line and raised an insane amount of money to simply race in circles.

It all seemed insane.

Instead of air flowing over the truck, I imagined dollar bills gracefully flowing over the front nose, the windshield and the roof. The wasted cash slammed forcefully into the spoiler and then disappeared into the exhaust tunnel, eventually funneling directly into the pockets of the owner of this building and its giant fan.

Here we were wasting time trying to learn something everyone in the sport already knew. It was incredibly frustrating to spend so many precious dollars with zero quantifiable gain for the sport.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: A brief history on wind tunnels. They initially were constructed more than 100 years ago for the study of air over solid objects and were used in early airplane development, military applications and the space program — one of the most famous tunnels is adjacent to a NASA research base in Langley, Va. The automobile and racing industries discovered practical uses for cars in wind tunnels around the same time.  As seen in the photo with this column, tunnels still remain used for development of Detroit production lines structured around optimizing fuel efficiency )

In the early years of auto racing, aerodynamics were as mysterious as the outer reaches of space. But in the last 15 years, I would argue that nothing of actual real world value has been gained from rolling a stock car into a wind tunnel.

The basics and the complexities are all known quantities. We are simply spending money within a very small box, all trying to reach the exact same conclusion.

The worst part is the byproduct: Consistently allowing the racing to become more aero dependent. No matter how often we lower the spoiler, or cut the splitter or change the rules. The teams will go to the wind tunnel and gain it back. It’s one of the world’s most expensive games of cat and mouse.

And I guarantee that no fan has ever said to another, “Man I just love that Matt Kenseth is leading this race because he has 20 more counts of downforce that his engineers found in the wind tunnel over Jimmie Johnson in second place.”

If those words ever have been uttered, I will eat one of the Nike shoes I wore on my ride up to Colossus at Bristol.

The thing is, we simply need to aim at providing our fans with great racing. Because the teams and manufacturers all know how generally to approach aerodynamics, there are no secrets anymore. There’s just unnecessary engineering for the sake of existence.

It’s a bit like a single young man who desperately wants a girlfriend. He buys expensive clothes, gets a snazzy haircut with expensive gel and buys a car he can’t possibly afford — all to impress a young lass.

Eventually they meet, and after 10 minutes of initially seeming madly in love, she’ll tell him she really just loves him for his jokes, laugh and kind nature — and hates his very expensive “ugly car.”

He therefore decides to buy more expensive clothes and a more expensive car.

It’s this sort of waste of precious dollars that is causing the biggest issue in racing.

We don’t have a funding problem. We have a spending problem.

And the wind tunnel uses its turbine fins to whip up an exorbitant amount of that spending.

Let’s ban the wind tunnels and stop this conspicuous consumption.

My proposition is to allow the manufacturers two full days of wind tunnel time at the beginning of each season. They are allowed to bring two cars of their choice from each series in which they race. After their two days are up, no NASCAR vehicle can enter a wind tunnel until the next year.

Compared to the 300-plus hours Cup teams annually spend in wind tunnels, this would be the largest cost savings the sport has seen.

I know there is one entity that will strongly disagree: The owners of the wind tunnels. But I am sorry. My fear is if we don’t do this soon, wind tunnels will face a lack of business anyway. Not because of an indifference to knowledge.

Because there won’t be any race teams left to gain the knowledge.

NASCAR America: Comparing severity of Harvick, Keselowski and Allmendinger penalties

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NASCAR handed out two crew chief suspensions in the Cup this week following the race weekend in Phoenix while another was upheld on appeal.

Brad Keselowski‘s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, was suspended three races and the team was docked 35 driver and owners points for failing weights and measurements in post-race inspection.

Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, Rodney Childers, was suspended one race and the team docked 10 driver and owner points for an unapproved track bar slider assembly.

The penalties for AJ Allmendinger‘s team, including the suspension of crew chief Randall Burnett, was upheld after an appeal.

The NASCAR America crew debates which team is hurt the most by their penalties.

 

Mario Andretti tries out, approves of Charlotte Motor Speedway road course

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We now have two positive reviews of the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.

Following AJ Allmendinger‘s comments back in January, IndyCar legend Mario Andretti has shared his thoughts on the 2.4-mile circuit that will likely host a NASCAR Cup race in fall 2018.

As a guest of the track and the NASCAR Racing Experience, the 77-year-old driver piloted two cars – a 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid and a 2017 Cadillac CTS-V. Andretti maxed out at 177 mph in the Porsche.

“It’s very difficult sometimes to really create a road course where you can ‘stretch your legs’ inside an oval,” Andretti said in a press release. “From that standpoint, I think they did a good job by giving it rhythm by putting some banking to the hairpin corners – which obviously invites some overtaking. It’s wide enough that you can choose a line. You’re not really trapped. … It’s got a multiple-line (groove) that you can choose from, depending on the capability of the car.”

The “roval” circuit would use most of the 1.5-mile oval NASCAR already competes on.

Allmendinger took part in a data test on the road course in mid-January and later said it “was a lot of fun.”

Earlier this month, Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Marcus Smith said the track “learned a lot” from the test.

“We have done a lot to engineer a world-class road course that would include the ‘roval,'” Smith told NBC Sports, adding that “several truckloads of crash walls and catchfence” were being transported in for installation.

The Cup Series has two road courses on it schedule, at Sonoma Raceway in California and Watkins Glen International in New York.

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Drivers unhurt in crash of Furniture Row Racing hauler near Las Vegas Motor Speedway

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The drivers of the Furniture Row Racing hauler carrying Erik Jones’ No. 77 Toyota were uninjured Thursday in a hit-and-run accident 15 miles north of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Travis Watts, who was behind the wheel, and David Shano were traveling from Phoenix Raceway to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, when their tractor-trailer rig was struck shortly after midnight on Interstate 15, according to a team release. The team said a car carrying two occupants pulled off the shoulder and back onto the highway directly in front of the truck, causing front-end damage to the tractor.

The team said there was no damage to the trailer or its interior, which was carrying Jones’ cars.

“We’re all very relieved no one was injured in the incident,” team president Joe Garone said. “There was substantial damage to the tractor, but everything in the trailer was checked out thoroughly and is OK. We’ve rented a tractor and the No. 77 hauler is on schedule to arrive at Auto Club Speedway later (Thursday).”

The team rented a replacement tractor at a Rush Truck Centers in North Las Vegas.

According to the team, the Nevada Highway Patrol apprehended and arrested the occupants of the car. The team is working to supply police with a video dash cam from the No. 77 tractor.

NASCAR America live at 5:30 p.m. ET: Auto Club Speedway preview, iRacing simulator

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs for 90 minutes beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and previews this weekend’s action at Auto Club Speedway.

Krista Voda hosts with Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut. Dale Jarrett joins them from Burton’s Garage.

On today’s show:

  • My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows continues as we visit Central Arizona Speedway in Casa Grande. We’ll also discuss some fun facts about the Grand Canyon State.
  • 2014 Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick has been on a roller coaster ride through four races this season. Now, he heads home to California where he looks to grab his first win of the season. We’ll take a trip to Harvick’s hometown of Bakersfield and examine his Racing Roots.
  • Kligerman jumps in the simulator to see what challenges the drivers will face this weekend in Fontana.

If you can’t catch the show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http://nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you plug-in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5:30 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.