The recently completed NASCAR off-season was anything but for crew chief Donnie Wingo and his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion team.
The change to a radically different Ford Fusion has kept Wingo and his Wood Brothers crew especially busy, even during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s, when teams typically take a few days off.
“For the first time in a long time I didn’t take a vacation,” Wingo said. “We didn’t even take the whole week of Christmas off.”
“This is by far the most change we’ve ever had from one season to the next.”
With NASCAR officials being extra careful with their specifications for the new cars, crew chiefs like Wingo found themselves working right up to the last minute before loading their cars for this week’s Preseason Thunder test sessions at Daytona International Speedway.
“NASCAR wants to get it right the first time with this new car,” Wingo said, adding that teams can either speculate what NASCAR will do and make changes to their cars or wait for the final rules to be released. He’s among those waiting for the final specs rather than guessing wrong on the rules. “You’ll stay behind if you’re constantly having to re-do things.”
It was just this week that the No. 21 Ford Fusion saw its first wind-tunnel test, one that answered few questions for now because it’s a totally new car.
“There’s really nothing to compare it to,” Wingo said.
For the Daytona test, Wingo and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team have taken the chassis they raced at Talladega Superspeedway last fall and made the necessary changes, including the installation of the new 2013 Ford Fusion body, one that more closely resembles those on the Fusions in dealers’ showrooms.
“The new bodies are going to appeal to the fans, especially those who are loyal to a certain manufacturer,” Wingo said.
How the cars perform on the race track will be determined in large part this week at Daytona.
“The car has less drag, but it also has less downforce – front, rear, and overall,” he said. Since NASCAR is adding even more body templates this year, there’s very little that teams can do to affect the aerodynamic characteristics of their cars.
It should be fairly evident early on in the test as to which cars have the advantage heading into Speedweeks.
“You’ll know how you stack up after the first three hours of the test,” he said.
Wingo said he’ll have his driver Trevor Bayne focus initially on single-car runs, but he does plan to do some drafting before the test ends on Saturday. Only after some drafting practice will drivers and teams know whether the tandem-style racing that has been commonplace at Daytona and Talladega in recent years will be feasible with the new cars.
Bayne and the team have been successful at that style of racing as evidenced by their win in the 2011 Daytona 500, but that may not be a viable option this time around.
“It’s pretty hard to tell at this point,” Wingo said. “I’m not sure how the bumpers are going to line up, and the front ends are different for each manufacturer.”
There’s also the additional factor of the cars having less downforce.
“We don’t know how well these cars will push,” he said. “But I’m sure people will be playing around with it.”
Qualifying for the season-opening Daytona 500 is set for Sunday, Feb. 17, at 1:05 p.m. Eastern Time, and the Great American Race is scheduled for Feb. 24 at 1:20 p.m.