NASCAR takes to the newly-repaved Kansas track this weekend, and teams were allowed to test during the week. It is the track that led to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s absence, as he received the first of two concussions in a test crash there last month. And Denny Hamlin had a similar incident, writing off what was intended to be his primary car for the race when he hit the turn one wall at around 200 miles per hour. Hamlin was also evaluated for concussion at the infield care center, due to NASCAR's heightened sensitivity to that type of injury. Strange , but it seems to me that NASCAR gets a lot more excited about safety issues when somebody named Earnhardt is involved.
The Kansas re-paving makes this weekend's race a bit of a wild card, with average lap speeds much faster than the old track record. Greg Biffle was fastest in early week testing, lapping at 184.9 mph, and eclipsing the old qualifying record of 180.856 mph. He upped the ante to over 191 in practice after the track rubbered in, but could only muster 11th best in qualifying. Kasey Kahne took the pole at 191.360 mph.
Despite a poor finish caused by running out of fuel, Brad Keselowski is still on top in the Chase standings, seven points ahead of second place Jimmie Johnson. Denny Hamlin is third, and Clint Bowyer moved up to fourth with his Charlotte victory. But Bowyer will need Keselowski, Johnson, and Hamlin all to have at least one bad race to have a chance at the title.
NASCAR revealed changes for 2013 last week, easing the testing ban and revamping qualifying procedures. The practice of seeding the top 35 in points, much maligned by fans and racing pundits alike, is going away. Instead, the fastest 36 cars will be in the show, with the next six places going to cars highest in owner points that did not make the top 35 in qualifying. One spot will be reserved for any past NASCAR champion who is not otherwise in the show, and that spot will go to the next highest car in owner points if there is no past champion eligible. I don't think it will make a lot of difference in who actually races on Sunday, but it seems like a fairer system on the face of it. One thing I don't like is that the qualifying order will be determined by random draw, as it was in the past. Personally, I think the current way of determining qualifying order based on practice times makes for a much more dramatic qualifying session. But I wasn't asked for my opinion. The rules for setting the field for the Daytona 500 are still being worked out. That race has a unique qualifying procedure involving the two 150-mile Duel races, and NASCAR is still ironing out the details based on the new qualifying system. Also, the points carryover from the previous season, which used to last for five races, will only last for three beginning in 2013.
In another major change, the testing ban which has been in effect since 2009 is being relaxed. Previously, teams could not test at tracks where NASCAR's top three series run, with the exception of sanctioned tire tests and tests at repaved tracks, as happened at Kansas last week. In 2013, teams will be allowed four tests at NASCAR tracks. I would imagine that teams will pick representative tracks, such as a short track, a mile and a half track, a newly-paved track, and perhaps a restrictor plate track. I doubt that many teams will use up a test on a road course, as there are only two road course races on the schedule.
Another move for 2013 is to reduce the field in Nationwide races from 43 cars to 40. Part of the reason for the change is to try and reduce the prevalence of "start and park" teams. As many as half a dozen or more cars in every Nationwide race seem to pit and retire after just a few laps, taking the starting money and saving fuel, tire, and engine rebuilding costs.