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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.

Cup Series Thursday night racing factoids

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When it comes to 1.5-mile tracks like Charlotte Motor Speedway, no one driver is getting comfortable in Victory Lane.

Entering tonight’s 310-mile race at Charlotte (7 p.m. ET on FS1), the second Cup race in five days on the oval, the series has seen eight different winners in the last eight visits to a 1.5-mile track.

That streak dates back to June 2019 when Alex Bowman earned his first career Cup Series win in a race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Between that race and Brad Keselowski’s win in the Coca-Cola 600, winners on 1.5-mile tracks included: Kurt Busch (Kentucky), Martin Truex Jr. (Las Vegas), Denny Hamlin (Kansas), Kevin Harvick (Texas), Kyle Busch (Miami) and Joey Logano (Las Vegas).

The Cup Series hasn’t seen a stretch of parity like that on 1.5-mile tracks since 2011, when the last eight 1.5-mile races were won by a different driver.

Here are some other interesting tidbits heading into tonight’s race.

Jimmie Johnson is entering his 37th and likely final Cup Series points start on the Charlotte oval. His eight points race wins and four All-Star Race wins there lead all drivers.

– Johnson has led 1,936 laps on the Charlotte oval, second most all-time to Bobby Allison (2,338).

– Hendrick Motorsports has 19 points wins at Charlotte by seven different drivers. That number of drivers is tied for the most all-time. Hendrick has seven different winners at Pocono and Talladega. Wood Brothers Racing has seven different winners at Daytona.

– Joe Gibbs Racing has 21 Cup wins since the start of 2019, which is 49% of races. Denny Hamlin has eight of those wins, which leads all drivers. Team Penske is second with nine wins.

– Tonight’s Cup race at Charlotte is scheduled for 208 laps. Only two races at Charlotte were scheduled for less laps and both were qualifying races in 1961 at 67 laps each for the 1961 World 600.

 

Jeff Burton joins Mike Tirico on Lunch Talk Live on NBCSN

Lunch Talk Live
NBC Sports
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NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton will be on today’s Lunch Talk Live with host Mike Tirico. Today’s show airs at noon ET on NBCSN.

Also on Thursday’s show will be Supercross points leader Eli Tomac.

“Lunch Talk Live” focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

You can also watch the show online here.

Today’s scheduled guests are:

  • Noon – Robbie Earle, Premier League on NBC
  • 12:05 p.m. – Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians manager
  • 12:15 p.m. – Chris Simms, FNIA/PFT/Unbuttoned/Notre Dame
  • 12:30 p.m. – Jeff Burton, NASCAR on NBC
  • 12:40 p.m. – Chris Mullin, Basketball Hall of Famer
  • 12:50 p.m. – Eli Tomac, Supercross current points leader

NASCAR adjusts Xfinity Dash 4 Cash schedule

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NASCAR announced changes to the Xfinity Series Dash 4 Cash races on Thursday.

Here is the schedule:

June 1 – Bristol Motor Speedway (will determine four eligible drivers for first Dash 4 Cash event)

June 6 – Atlanta Motor Speedway (Dash 4 Cash event No. 1)

June 14 – Homestead-Miami Speedway (Dash 4 Cash event No. 2)

June 20 – Talladega Superspeedway (Dash 4 Cash event No. 3)

TBA – Next scheduled Xfinity series race after Talladega (Dash 4 Cash event No. 4)

Each Dash 4 Cash event will have four eligible drivers racing for the $100,000 bonus.

The driver who wins the bonus advances to the next Dash 4 Cash event. The next three-highest finishing Xfinity Series drivers eligible for the series title, qualify for the next Dash 4 Cash race.

Previously, Miami was to have served as the qualifying race and was to be followed by Dash 4 Cash races at Texas, Bristol, Talladega and Dover. All those events were postponed because of the COIVD-19 pandemic.

Cup, Xfinity entry lists for Bristol Motor Speedway

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Almost two months it was originally scheduled, NASCAR will finally hold its first Bristol Motor Speedway race weekend of the year.

The Cup and Xfinity Series continue their marathon of races this weekend. The Cup Series will race on Sunday and the Xfinity Series will compete Monday night.

Here are the entry lists for this weekend’s races.

Cup – Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 (3:30 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox)

Forty cars are entered into the race.

JJ Yeley is entered in Tommy Baldwin Racing’s No. 7 Chevrolet.

Gray Gaulding is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s 27 Ford.

Kyle Busch won this race last year over his brother Kurt Busch.

Denny Hamlin won last year’s night race over Matt DiBenedetto.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Cheddar’s 300 (7 p.m. ET Monday on FS1)

There are 37 cars entered.

Modified driver Patrick Emerling will make his Xfinity Series debut in Our Motorsports’ No. 02 Chevrolet. Brett Moffitt drove the car in the first six races of the season.

Carson Ware makes his Xfinity Series debut driving SS Green Light Racing’s No. 07 Chevrolet.

A.J. Allmendinger is entered in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevrolet.

Myatt Snider is entered in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet.

Christopher Bell won this race last year over Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer. Chase Briscoe, who finished fourth, is the highest finishing returning driver from that race.

Reddick won last year’s night race over Briscoe and John Hunter Nemechek.

Click here for the entry list.