CONCORD, N.C. – The Daytona 500 is still weeks away, but one of the most important dates for the 2019 season arrives this Thursday.
Tomorrow begins a two-day test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, allowing teams to get a feel for the new 2019 rules package on the track for the first time.
Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team will represent Hendrick Motorsports at the test.
“This is kind of our first big test with the new rules package, so it’s going to be very important,” No. 48 team crew chief Kevin Meendering said. “This is our first true test of how we adapt to the track and the conditions and what changes we make that Jimmie reacts to and how he feels in the car or what feel he’s looking for in the car, so I think this is definitely an important test for us as a team but also as an organization.”
Last October, NASCAR announced two baseline rules packages for the 2019 Cup Series tailored by track type to deliver even more exciting, side-by-side racing.
At Las Vegas this week, teams will put the new rules to the test.
“We’re looking forward to in Vegas,” Johnson said. “We’re excited to have the January test, and honestly that’s the first domino for us to really start validating our tools and get them working.”
Johnson noted that a major benefit of the test will be the ability to input the data gathered into the GM simulator so that all of the drivers can take advantage.
Additionally, the seven-time Cup Series champion said he and the rest of the No. 48 team will “debrief” with the other teams and “answer any questions that come up” after the test.
Chase Elliott said he’s looking forward to those discussions.
“I think it'll be a valuable test for all of us, and Jimmie is a great asset to go test,” Elliott said. “He does the best of explaining things and feeling them in the car and then being able to put it into words for the rest of us to understand. So, he's a perfect candidate to go out there and do it.”
As for the No. 48 team’s focus at the test, Meendering said a key piece of information gathering will come when the drivers are on the track in a group setting.
“I think the biggest thing is how the car’s reacting in the pack around other cars,” he explained. “I think that’s the biggest unknown, how this style of racing is going to carry out. I think there’s going to be a big compromise in how you build the car, how much speed you put in the car versus driveability.”
No. 9 team crew chief Alan Gustafson said, like his driver, he’s looking forward to getting Johnson and Meendering’s perspective on how the cars perform with the new package.
“Start trying to understand what we’re up against with the new package,” Gustafson said. “See where we stack up.”
No. 24 team crew chief Chad Knaus added that the information gleaned from the test will help the teams focus their efforts in the final stretch before Daytona.
“It’s a critical test to try to establish what the wants and the needs are,” Knaus said. “I think it’s going to be a good opportunity.”