Las Vegas: Round three preview

Recent test sessions will be reference tool, in UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 2, 2004) -- Bring out the notebooks, or rather, the laptops. Teams will be doing just that this week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of...

Recent test sessions will be reference tool, in UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 2, 2004) -- Bring out the notebooks, or rather, the laptops.

Teams will be doing just that this week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of Sunday's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400. Taking notes took on added importance in January, when the NASCAR Preseason Thunder test sessions came west to LVMS.

The 1.5-mile track will host the first event of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season using tires that are noticeably different from last year -- tires designed to have adequate grip, but a grip that lessens as more laps are run, in effect making tire management a real concern for teams as they determine their set-ups.

In addition, the track's configuration will produce the first true showcase for the new, shorter spoiler heights (5½ inches tall, a three-quarters inch reduction from 2003) in place for non-restrictor plate events.

This also should usher in a period of truer exams for the drivers, with cars less aero-dependent. Simply put, the new tire/spoiler combination should produce a "less car, more driver" equation. An outspoken fan of that potential situation is 2002 series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet).

"It's still too early to tell [how the racing will be]," Stewart said. "I'm not sure it'll be exactly the way it was [a few years ago], but it will be a step toward how it used to be. In all reality, it'll be just another phase of how the competition side of this sport has evolved since I first came here."

From rookie Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers-UAW Dodge): "We should get a better idea this weekend about how the new aero rules and softer tire will play out. I really like the new tire, because it puts more control into my hands."

Stewart said the absolute true test of the "new" tire may not come until next week's event in Atlanta.

"The performance of the tires has always fallen off at Vegas, but the new tire is falling off a little bit more, obviously," Stewart said. "But that's a good thing. It's what a lot of the drivers have wanted for a long time because the fuel mileage and track position games we saw played last year have been taken out of the equation this year."

Added Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet): "With the [different] tire, when the test was there [in January], speeds were fast for a few laps, but they definitely gave up a lot, so we'll have to adapt to that, make sure that we do a good job of getting our car balanced as good as possible."

It's a learning period, Stewart said, one that started at the NASCAR Preseason Thunder sessions at Las Vegas.

Notebooks, at this point, are mandatory.

"But I think that suits [our] team well," Stewart said. "We can take a new set of circumstances and pinpoint all of the variables to find a new combination that works for us on the race track."

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Kasey Kahne