February has always been the official start of the Sprint Cup season, but race fans remember that the new season actually got kicked off with the annual three-day January Daytona test sessions. It was the first time of the New Year that the teams were back on the track as a group and the media always used it to start building interest for the green flag that was set to wave the following month to start the season-opening Daytona 500.
Back in September NASCAR announced that it was banning all private team testing for the 2015 season along with the annual January open test session. While no one specific reason was given for the change, you have to feel that it was another way for the governing body to help teams cut costs and help close the gap between the smaller teams and the larger, better funded teams.
Even though individual teams will be prohibited from testing on their own, there will still be plenty of testing taking place in the series. NASCAR allows Goodyear to schedule as many test as it deems necessary to make sure that it is producing the best tire possible for ever stop on the schedule.
This season Goodyear has scheduled 12 tests with each session hosting four teams and that will be followed by an open one-day test that will allow one car per organization. If a multicar organization has participated in the preceding tire test, it must use the same driver and team in the open test. Attendance at the open test sessions is not mandatory, but if a team wants to participate in the test it must notify NASCAR at least three weeks prior to the session.
Teams selected for any of the Goodyear tests come from a rotating set of three groups made up of full-time teams. The first group is made up of Stewart-Haas Racing, JTG Daugherty Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. The second group consists of Richard Childress Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing. The final group is made up of Hendrick Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and BK Racing.
Just like in recent seasons, NASCAR can schedule special open tests for teams to familiarize themselves with any rules changes from the previous season. These special test sessions will be limited to one per racetrack grouping that includes short tracks, road courses and speedways. The sanctioning body has already scheduled a fourhour test for Atlanta on Feb. 26 that will count as the speedway test.
NASCAR is taking its ban on private testing seriously as it has said that any team caught testing on its own will receive a P6 penalty, the highest on NASCAR’s punishment scale that was introduced last season. The penalty carries a loss of 150 points, a minimum $150,000 fine and a six-week suspension for the crew chief and possibly other crewmembers.
The only exceptions to NASCAR’s new testing policy would be if a new organization began competing in the series. A new organization is defined as a team that hasn’t competed in more than 20 races or two seasons, whichever is first. If a team meets the new organization criteria it will be allowed five two-day tests at any track upon approval from NASCAR.
PIT NOTES: All eyes will once again be on Jimmie Johnson this season to see if he can tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s record of seven Sprint Cup championships. Johnson struggled for much of the season and it showed as even though he made the Chase he never really was a factor once it started. He finished the season with the lowest amount of top-five finishes since his rookie year. Johnson will be joined by Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon in reaching a career milestone this year as Gordon will enter the season with 92 career Cup wins. The 100-win mark has only been reached by David Pearson with 105 and the all-time leader Petty with 200 trips to victory lane.