New Season Around The Corner

True, there is next-to-no ‘off-season’ in NASCAR Winston Cup racing, but even diehards in the garage seem taken aback at the thoughts of Daytona testing starting in two weeks. The most oft-heard line seems to be, "You gotta be kidding! We just finished Homestead!" but the fact remains: Speed Weeks at Daytona is just around the corner.

The importance of off-season testing isn’t lost on Derrike Cope, who is scheduled to run good-sized partial NASCAR Winston Cup schedule in 2003. Sponsorship plans will be announced in early January. With that set, however, Cope and his Quest Motor Racing Chevrolet team know they will need a good testing session at Daytona in January - not necessarily showing speed as much as gaining the knowledge they need. That, he says, will be crucial for every team.

Here are the thoughts of former Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope of Spanaway, Wash., has his team prepares for January testing at Daytona:

Q. As a general rule, how important is Daytona testing?

It is extremely important, especially with the standardized body location now in place. There have been obvious front and rear changes, and overall changes as well.

That changes a lot for everyone. Testing at Daytona has now become a matter of going out and finding the balance in the car. Other teams who have been able to find that balance in the wind tunnel are going to have to start all over again. The rules changes change the attitude of the car. Everybody is going to have to work hard.

Q. Are the rules changes beneficial to anyone? Do smaller teams gain an advantage or do larger teams continue to keep an advantage?

Realistically for us, for Quest Motor Racing, it is a good thing. It puts us in a position where the wind tunnel becomes less important because of the standardized body location. Everybody will have to do the same thing, whether it is us or a team that has won a championship - go to the track and work on the balance of the car downforce-wise. That part helps the smaller teams.

I think a lot of people are in the situation we are, too, right now - trying to get cars built, trying to get all of our bodies changed over and to get some testing under our belts. Getting bodies hung is our priority right now.

Q. So you feel the rules changes should help the smaller teams.

In my opinion, yes. I don’t believe that with all the confinements and restrictions put on you with the common template and with what you can do under the rules that you are going to be able to find as much in the way of aerodynamic advantages. It limits you a whole lot more.

In the past, teams with greater resources could make more and bigger changes. This takes a lot of that away. You are looking for smaller and smaller things, which lead to smaller advantages with changes. These rules handicaps what those teams could do in the past.

Parity is going to be greater but don’t get me wrong. There are still going to be good teams, and they will be better than the bad teams. That doesn’t changed. This just closes the gap some from first to 43rd.

Q. So where on the car do you work during testing?

With the standardized location, there are minimal amounts with what you can do. Balance is going to be really important and an area everyone will be working on.

I think, too, guys will be looking underneath the car as much as they car, seeing what they can do there.

Q. Are the big speedways the only place where this is going to be a factor?

It’s going to be more evident at speedways like Daytona and Talladega. They are now not allowing you to do so many things - you just can’t manipulate the bodies to the degree you did before. I believe there is going to be a greater emphasis on the motor programs. There is going to have to be.

Q. Specifically Quest Motor Racing, what are you looking for from Daytona testing and how are you approaching it?

We didn’t get a chance to run much last year. As far as unknowns, we’re better prepared than we were last year. We are way ahead of things right now. Our speedway car is done and our downforce car is almost done. Other cars are having bodies put on.

We have gotten a head start with our engine program. At first blush, I’m excited about where we are horsepower-wise. I’m more optimistic than I have ever been. All in all, I couldn’t be more pleased.

Testing is important to everyone. The tough thing in this sport is when you have a group of guys who haven’t worked with you before, and you are trying to get them on the same page as you. In our situation, it’s good that we have qualified people and an experienced driver because you can adapt relatively quickly.

With the new testing rules, that’s pretty important. They have cut us back on tests again. They say you have five but, realistically, you have three you can pick. You know you are going to test Daytona and Indy. Three tests with a one-car team, now that is difficult. That’s where bigger teams have their advantage because with more cars, essentially the more tests you have. The more testing you do, the better off you are. The less testing, the more difficult it becomes.

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