Saturday, May 31, 2008

Culture shock is sending cheaters home

The hardest thing in the world to change is culture. That doesn’t mean that it’s sometimes worth the effort.

After 12-plus years of covering NASCAR, I believe that the sport of stock-car racing badly needs a culture change. And there’s really one way to make it happen.

Here’s the problem. Cheating is more than accepted in the sport, it’s revered. People who’ve spent a big part of their careers trying to outflank the rule book are held up as the great examples, the heroes who should be emulated.

I have never, ever understood that.

Smokey Yunick, for example, was without question a total genius in what he could do with an automobile. He did so many things that advanced the science of the race car and the automobile itself. But all you ever hear about him is how he drove a race car from Daytona International Speedway to his shop in Holly Hill with the fuel tank pulled out of the car.

Why is that?

Why celebrate those who waste – and that is precisely the word I want to use – their time, effort and money working on things that aren’t legal? Why revere those who decide to take paths outside the rules to try to get ahead of those who have the integrity to play by the rules?

I am not against innovators. In fact, I am standing up for them. The true innovators are those who find new ways to do things that are legal, that do get approved through proper channels and who don’t have to live their lives worrying about what an inspector might see.

I have said this before, but the example still holds. The engines in a stock car are, by a huge multiplier, more powerful and more durable than they were 20 years ago. But how many times in the past 20 years have engine builders been suspended and/or fined for breaking the rules?

Not many. The engine departments have worked to find better ways to do things and generate more power that lasts longer. They’ve done it, in 99 percent of all cases, within the rules and within the processes that have been established for bringing new ideas into the sport.

So why shouldn’t people who work on suspension elements or the cars’ bodies be held to the same standards?

If you’re messing with the rear-wing mounts, as NASCAR said the Haas CNC Racing teams that got penalized this week were, even if you completely get away with it and race with for 100 straight races what have you truly accomplished?

Where’s the pride in that? There wouldn’t be any if integrity and honor were cherished as much in stock-car racing as they should be.

That’s the part of the culture that I think is off-kilter. But I think it could be changed, and I don’t think it would take a whole lot of time.


Simple. Start sending cheaters home.

If you come to the race track with a car that doesn’t pass inspection to the point that NASCAR rules it will not be allowed on the track, that team does not race. Period.

At any point now where NASCAR would impound the car and force the team to use a backup car, that team should just be told to pack it up and leave.

Send home a couple of teams for not playing by the rules and you begin to change the way that kind of foolishness is regarded inside the garage.

Until that happens, you’re never going to change the culture. And that’s where it all needs to start.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tall men and smaller ones in traffic on race day

A few observations while waiting for the Coca-Cola 600 to begin:

Yao Ming is a very tall man. I know that's not exactly breaking news, but until you see a man who really is 7 feet, 6 inches tall or whatever size the Houston Rockets star is, it's hard to completely grasp the concept. Ming, at the track as part of Coca-Cola promotion for this summer's Olympics, was walking through the garage and his head, shoulders and pretty much entire upper torso towered above those around him. He could not have got lost if he tried.

If you're one of those drivers who pulls up to the front of a long line of traffic and then forces your way in rather than waiting your turn, that doesn't mean you're smarter than the rest of us. It just means that we were raised better than you were.

So I'm watching the driver introductions to the Indianapolis 500 on TV and Marco Andretti is wearing a Fedora and a jacket with a wide belt. His car is sponsored by the "Indiana Jones" movie and the get-up is supposed to make him look like Harrison Ford does in the films. Actually, it makes him look like he bought a Halloween costume at Wal-Mart.

I got up in time Sunday morning to watch the final two-thirds of the Monaco Grand Prix. You don't have to be a big Formula One fan to be impressed by seeing those cars zip around that street course. Lewis Hamilton was way out in front, but they showed in-car shots of him darting up hill, downhill, through underpasses and around hairpins and it felt like you were on a roller coaster at your local theme park.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Humpy can't be replaced

I’ll tell you my favorite Humpy Wheeler story.

He was running Robinwood Speedway, in about 1961 or so. It was a dirt track in my hometown of Gastonia. Wheeler grew up over in Belmont, just a few miles down the road in Gaston County, where his dad was athletic director at Belmont Abbey College.

Like most people who ran dirt tracks back then, Wheeler did everything. He went around trying to drum up a crowd through the week and on race day he had to get the track ready for racing.

On this day, however, Wheeler had a problem. The old truck he used to water the track’s surface was broken down. It would not run. Wheeler was in a fix. To this day, Wheeler hates dust at a dirt track more than just about anything in this world.

He went to a couple of volunteer fire departments, hoping to borrow their water trucks. No luck. “It was the dry time of the year and they were afraid to let me use it,” Wheeler said. “I had reached the end.”

Wheeler had one last card to play. He had a buddy in the septic tank business, and he had a truck with a tank to hold, well, liquid.

They pumped water in and used the truck to work on the track. Wheeler went home to take a shower and get ready for a long night of racing. He got back to the track about 4 that afternoon.

“I am telling you, the smell was unbelievable,” Wheeler said. He couldn’t call off the race – tickets had been sold. As the crowd gathered, the complaining started. Wheeler had to think fast.

So he got on the public address system and apologized to his patrons. “The paper mill is at it again,” Wheeler said. It was the best he could do.

Wheeler’s retirement as president of Lowe’s Motor Speedway is official Wednesday. I don’t know for sure if he’s going to hang around through the weekend for his 33rd Coca-Cola 600 at the track in Charlotte, but I sure hope he does. A lot of people need time to tell him thank you.

He’s helped more people get their start or figure out their way through some of the travails of their careers in racing that anyone will ever know. He’s been kind to reporters who’re new at covering his sport. He’s thought more about fans than the fans will ever know and has helped build what I consider to be the template for the modern American racing facility.

I don’t know, not yet, why he’s leaving right now. But I do know he’s done enough for his sport that nobody should begrudge him the opportunity to do some things he wants to do.

I’ve heard that he has plans to write a book that I promise you I will be reading. He loves to travel and I hope that he and his wonderful wife, Pat, get the chance to do as much of that as they want to. He rides his bicycle and reads and thinks about the world in which we live in ways I wish I could.

I asked Wheeler a few years ago if he thought that when he retired anybody would be ready to step into the big shoes he’d be leaving. “Oh yes,” he said, “there’s nobody who can’t be replaced.”

I sort of laughed when he said that, and then I told him a story that applies here. I took the job as motorsports reporter for the Charlotte Observer in 1997, and the man who had that job before me was Tom Higgins. Higgins covered NASCAR for about 30 years and when he retired he received the Bill France Award for his contributions to the sport. He was – and still is, thank goodness – a legend.

I went to Daytona that year for my first race and somebody said, “So you’re replacing Higgins?”

It had never really been put to me like that before.

I thought a minute and said, “Well, not really. I’ve got the job he had, but nobody is ever going to replace Tom.”

Nor Humpy.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A lot to digest from the all-star weekend

Well, it's midnight and all-star day is over.

Kasey Kahne, Ray Evernham and Kenny Francis have just left the media center and are down on the start-finish line doing more of the silly "hat dance" photos that are part of the postrace victory duties.

Kahne did a tremendous job in winning the race. Francis, the team director, made the right call in taking no tires on the final pit stop. I never thought for a minute that any of the three cars that didn't get tires before the final segment would win the race, but I guess that shows track position is king.

I am squarely on the record as being opposed to the idea of the fan vote, which I call the "pity pass." Fans have squandered it, horribly, in past years by putting guys in the main event that had no shot at winning. In selecting Kahne this time the fans did well, and I would have said that if he hadn't won.

Still, Kahne shouldn't have been in the race. He finished fifth in the Sprint Showdown. Two cars advanced out of that race and only one of them should have - the winner. You should have to win something to make the all-star race. I would cut the exemption for past winners of this event and past Cup champions from 10 to five years, too.

But that's all water under the bridge for this year.

It will be interesting to see if Kahne's win provides any momentum for his team going forward. It's interesting that his teammate, Elliott Sadler, was really down after getting wrecked out of the Showdown. Sadler made a mistake on Lap 2 and crashed at Darlington last week, too.

Kahne's win came at a good time for Gillett-Evernham Motorsports, that's for sure.

The 25-25-25-25 format for this year's all-star race wasn't an improvement in any way that I saw. The race wasn't thrilling because there were no cautions other than the ones for the breaks between segments. The lack of any kind of field inversion didn't help, either.

In a larger sense, though, I think that if next Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 is the same kind of event -- where the leader can't be touched and track position is the be-all and end-all - I am going to have to say that NASCAR has to do something about the rules on this car.

I know fans will howl because they didn't change things last year when Hendrick Motorsports was dominating. But NASCAR can't spend this summer, with the economy like it's going to be, having races where the only place the leader gets passed is on pit road.

There are people who say the COT needs to be abandoned, but that's not going to happen. It does look like something is going to have to be done to change what's happening on the track, though.

It'll be an hour or more before I get to leave here because of the traffic. That'll put me home about 3, I would guess. I wish I could go to the drag race at Bristol tomorrow, but I have to write a second-day story and some other stuff for next week after I finally get up in the morning.

Fortunately for me I didn't use any of the good postrace stuff tonight. That's because NASCAR and Lowe's Motor Speedway again treated the print media like crap in the postrace.

I mean that literally. Think of Kahne's time after winning as food. Network television is the mouth. Network radio is the esophagus. NASCAR "partners" like Speed and ESPN are the stomach. Photographers taking staged photos that could be shot two hours after the race - as is still being done, are the pancreas. Local television is the intestines.

And, down at the end, you know what that makes people like me, right?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sadler out of luck and NASCAR out of patience with crab-walking cars

It's 8:30 now and A.J. Allmendinger and Sam Hornish have moved into the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race with their top-two finishes in the Showdown.

Elliott Sadler is not exactly thrilled with Allmendinger after their early race incident. Sadler has inherited Matt Kenseth's luck lately, it seems.

I was sitting here in the press box a little while ago and John Darby walked in. We were chatting and I asked him what they were going to do about the sideways cars the teams are building these days. He said that the teams need a little bit of that to make their cars work, but that this week several of them have gone beyond the point NASCAR is going to tolerate.

One of the cars pushed to and maybe beyond the limit was Hornish's No. 77 Dodge. Several teams told me this week that if I wanted to understand what people were talking about in terms of the sideways cars I should look at the 77 as the example.

Hornish said in his interview after finishing second in the Showdown that his car is so sideways it's hard for him to actually get it into his stall in the garage without hitting the door openings.

Darby said NASCAR will likely inform the teams this week to "clean things up." Mabye next week the cars will actually roll up the ramp onto the scales without having to be crab-walked.

Sure hope it plays well in Peoria

First impression - the burnout contest needs work on the format but the concept is good. It doesn't need to be a timed event, that's for sure, at least not totally. It ought to be about who can do the most creative burnout and let the fans vote on the winner or something. But I do like the idea.

Jimmy Spencer just said that he has "hibernated" from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. Goodness gracious, I like that guy. What he meant, I think, was that he's now moved to North Carolina and he's glad about that.

Speed is trying too hard to make this a big deal. "Official" viewing parties in New York, Miami and Los Angeles? Please. Hermie Sadler screams about how the excitement is building in the garage and then "proves" that by interviewing THE GOVERNOR OF NORTH CAROLINA!!!!!

It took me about 15 minutes to get from the infield around the track and then another 15 to get through the gate because I waited in line with the fans while ticket takers were tearing little stubs off the end. Nothing like making your paying customers fight foo so they can get in the gate.

I've eaten some beef tips in the press box and I still cannot get rid of that damn cucumber after taste. Now that I am upstairs looking down at the track I find myself wondering what Tums had to pay to get about 50 banners up along pit wall down the frontstretch, and also wondering how it can be possible for every track in America to find a public address announcer that sucks as bad as every other track. There must be a school somewhere.

The fireworks are starting early. A guy one row down from me in the press box just plugged his computer in and the plug basically blew up.

Now THAT was a burnout.

Rules of the road do not apply

It's 5 p.m. and I just got back into the media center after a couple of laps of the garage.

You can't walk in the garage for the people, but that's nothing new. In the areas outside the garage itself but still in the infield, it's hard to walk for all of the golf carts running around and it's hard for the golf carts to get around for all the people.

I still don't know when the golf-cart proliferation started in this sport, but it is way yonder out of control. The thing about them is that the people driving them normally don't think rules of the road apply to them. A guy will be standing there with his hand up stopping traffic and people in golf carts will drive up to the front of the line and try to drive right past the guy holding the cars up.

Of course, there's also the rules of race track pedestrians. Anything paved is a sidewalk and people who like four-wide racing think they have to walk four-wide, too.

I just got back from an interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for a story for next week's Coca-Cola 600 coverage. I think it was very good. I'll give you one tidbit from it. Dale Jr. is a huge fan of the TV show "The Office." He said that he'd quit racing tomorrow if he could get a job selling paper in Scranton, Pa., for Dunder-Miflin.

I am trying to get to the press box in time for the burnout contest that's supposed to begin at 6:20 p.m. It might take me that long to get my stuff raked up in a pile and get around the track.

If I only had a golf cart.

Just trying to avoid Speed and foo

In the media center by 12:37 p.m., avoiding most of the foo one normally must fight on the way to a big race here.

I will say that the person driving the white van/SUV with the South Carolina plate who changed lanes three times and was going about 80 when he got off the exit ramp to Highways 29 and 49 must have thought the race started about 12:45 and didn't want to be late.

Here's a question that came to me over lunch. Who decided that every salad that's made these days has to have about half a pound of cheese in it? And what's the deal with hiding cumcumbers? If you want to put cukes where a man can see them and get rid of them if he wants, that's fine. But you take a forkful with a hunk of that hidden down in there and you'll be tasting cucumber for days.

I've decided that I am going to try not to watch Speed for as long as is possible today. Total resistance is futile, I know, since all of tonight's coverage will be on the network. But the longer I can avoid Speed the longer I can avoid certain elements of the network's "talent" roster - and believe me, I use that term loosely.

It's such a nice day I think I will go out and see if I can find any trouble to get into in the garage area. I think it's supposed to be open now that it's just past 1:30 and I've goofed around in here trying in vain to get this laptop to recognize the wireless network.

Only 7 1/2 hours (at least) until they start the main event.

All-star race day and chamber of commerce weather

I did this the other night at the Pit Crew Challenge, dropping a few paragraphs in here and there about what was happening.

What I wrote seemed to tick off a few people, including some of the people working for Speed. So that alone is enough reason for me to try it again.

It's 10:45 am and I am at home, on the desktop my wife and I both use some there, I just sent a bunch of stuff from the laptop over here so I could print it out and have with me at the track.

Jim Utter covered the Truck race for the paper and last night, so I left about halfway through it. I was about halfway home when Kyle Busch wrecked and the race actually got going. I was sitting in my driveway as they lined up for the green-white-checkered and barely got inside in time to see the finish.

You have to be happy for Matt Crafton, who did a great job surviving all of that to win. It was a good race for the Truck Series, too. There was a whole lot of action late in the race and anybody who stayed around through Busch's early dominance was rewarded.

I've been thinking about what that means. It's clear the Toyota truck teams have their acts together, but I don't think you can say that Busch was doing what he did last night only because his truck is unfairly strong or anything like that. Once he fell out, there were eight to 10 trucks in the mix, of all makes, that looked pretty equal. Busch had by far the best truck until he fell out, but I don't think you can say it was all truck and no driver, at least not fairly.

I doesn't seem the weather is going to be any kind of a problem today. It's a chamber of commerce day right now, sunny and pleasant and it's supposed to stay that way.

All right, time to pack it up and head that way. Zaxby's for lunch because they have crushed ice!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dancing the night away

Things at the Pit Crew Challenge have actually started to look up.

First, we're finally about to have some actual competition.

Second, and far more significantly, they brought out five or six Speed "hoochies" to dance in front of the horrifyingly bad band.

And Martin Truex Jr.'s team just broke the record again with a clean stop in 23.07 seconds, beating Juan Pablo Montoya's team badly in the first pairing.

Which made the girls dance again.

Dim lights, cheap seats and loud, loud music

OK, now it's 6:30 and there's this big group of people way up in the rafters of Time Warner Arena in some really crappy seats.

They're being allowed to ask questions of certain drivers - Kevin Harvick for a while, then Carl Edwards, then Greg Biffle and now Kyle Busch and Bobby Labonte.

That guy from Speed who might very well be the world's largest waste of protoplasm is acting as the master of ceremonies for this portion of the evening's activities. I won't mention his name here because, well, basically he annoys me as much as any person on the planet does these days.

Speaking of being annoyed, once again they've handed out Thundersticks at this event. In hell, they've got a nice, warm spot saved for the guy who invented those.

In fact, if they would let the guy from Speed bang Thundersticks in time with this garage band that's playing again really LOUD I think that'd be a fairly close approximation of eternal torment.

Only 30 minutes to go until they actually start the competition again. I went downstairs for a little while and actually tried to walk on the floor.

Fortunately, the sniper missed.

A record evening for crews and volume

I guess I am supposed to label this as a "spoiler" since the Pit Crew Challenge won't come on television until 9 p.m. on Speed, about the time the event will actually be ending live.

No, I am not going to tell you who won because it's not yet 5 p.m. as I am writing this. We've just completed the "seeding round," in which the top eight teams in the points as of March 10 (Why March 10? Who knows?) did a stop to determine how they'll be seeded for the second round.

They get first-round byes.

The individual champions of this event might already be deteremined, since the eight teams in the seeding round have already had their members post their times at the individual stations.

The doors don't open to fans for another hour or so. Why did they do the seeding round two hours before the rest of the competition starts at 7? Again, I have no clue.

There's a house band. So we've got that going for us. So far they've been quite awful. I don't imagine they're going to improve much over the next two hours. They're certainly LOUD, and I've been told that the first rule of bands is if you can't be good you should certainly be LOUD.

There are about 75 people here who're not actually competitors. Don't know why, I think they're "customers" of Sprint in some significant way.

I can tell you that the record for a stop in this event has already been broken.

Ryan Newman's team had the record at 23.35 seconds in last year's quarterfinal but Jimmie Johnson's team did better than that in the seeding round at a time somewhat faster than that.

I can't tell you what that actual time was because not only are the fans not here yet but the people who're running the timing and results for the media aren't set up yet, either. But it was pretty darn fast, I'll tell you that.

I wish I could give you the feel of the electricity on the floor itself. But I am not allowed down there. Television only on the event level.

Them and the house band.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

There is just a lot to love about Darlington

DARLINGTON, S.C. - They say it's always 5 o'clock somewhere. Right now, it's 5 at Darlington Raceway. In a little more than two hours, they'll turn 43 cars loose on this glorious old race track. It looks like we'll have us another one of those spectacular sunsets that we've had a couple of times here since they've moved this race to Mother's Day weekend and then we'll have us a heck of a race - I hope.

The new pavement here is something they had to do, but based on what I've seen and heard so far this weekend tonight's race just isn't going to be what we've come to expect at Darlington.

The track's black, and that just doesn't seem right. In a few years, I reckon, the sand in the soil down this way will blast it gray again and cars will sliding all over the place like it seems like they always have here.

But I'm of the mind that a bad race at Darlington, if that's what we wind up having, is at least as good as a good race at a lot of other places.

They've been running here since 1950 and I hope they run here another 60 years or so, at least.

It's a crime they moved Darlington off Labor Day weekend, but I suppose the way things have turned out aren't too bad. They've sold the grandstands out for the fourth straight time, and in this economy that's a nice thing to have accomplished.

I am sitting in the press box that overlooks Turn 3. It's ridiculous that the press box is still on the other side of the track from pit road and the start-finish line - the TV booth is over there where it needs to be - but I know I won't get much traction with fans complaining about what the media need to be able to do the job.

The infield in front of me looks fairly well packed, which is a pleasant surprise given how much it must cost these days to fill up the tank in an RV. They've built a new tunnel that runs right through the parking area that used to be right in front of us, which is a shame because there's no longer room in there for race fans to start up the touch football game that usually devolves into a big ol' brawl right before our eyes. I guess you can't protect all the traditions.

I love this place. It's not the nicest track, in terms of fan amenities, that I go to. But they've done a pretty good job of making it at least passibly modern in the past few years. Every track doesn't need to be slick as a whistle, does it?

This is a great place to watch drivers try to race, even if they race this tough ol' track a lot more than they do each other. You have to be good, the way I see it, to win a race here. That ought to be the measure of a track, at least to some degree, and on that score Darlington is right up there.

Enjoy the race.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

What if the Stewart shoe were on the other foot?

I know there are bigger fish to fry in light of the end of Saturday night's race at Richmond, and I'll be addressing the Kyle Busch-Dale Earnhardt Jr. fracas in a column or blog (depending on what my newspaper wants) later today.

But Toyota's Lee White said something this weekend to David Newton of that I hadn't thought about – but should have.

Here’s the quote from Newton’s notebook:

"We're not a company that gets in the middle between owners and drivers," Lee White, the general manager of Toyota Racing Development, said before Saturday's race at Richmond International Raceway. "If there is a manufacturer out there that is spearheading or brokering or promoting an activity like this, I can promise you it will not be Toyota. We don't consider that to be our role in the garage."

White is a crafty, well-spoken man. He knows how to use the language. Let me put what that quote means into plain-speak for you.

"When we came into NASCAR, a lot of people started talking about Toyota was going to come in and throw money around and 'buy' our way to Victory Lane.

"Now, one of the best drivers in sport is on a team we have a contract with. That driver, Tony Stewart, has a contract with Joe Gibbs Racing that doesn't expire until after 2009. But here we are talking about Stewart possibly going somewhere as soon as after this season, and it's widely accepted that a major impetus for that is Chevrolet's avowed interest in having Tony come back to Chevy. Where's the criticism of that?"

One thing I always try to do when examining a situation is to take it and turn it around.

Suppose Stewart had a contract with a Chevrolet team and Toyota officials were saying, "Yes, we're trying to get Tony Stewart to come to one of our teams, and we're willing to do whatever we can to make that happen. If he wants ownership of a team, we'll do that. Whatever it takes."

How loud would the anti-Toyota crowd be howling?

I think it's perfectly justified to wonder about the "sanctity" of NASCAR contracts.

Is it fair to their current teams for drivers and teams to be talking about what's going to happen 18 to 20 months away? Or is that merely a product of the complicated nature of deals these days?

But let's at least try not to have a complete double standard, shall we?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Waste not, want not and all that

It used to be that engineers were treated the same way reporters are in the NASCAR garage.

You know, like scum.

The "racers," people with grease under their fingernails and oil smudged on their shirts, would send the team's token "egghead" off to look for the left-handed tire tool or on some other kind of similar snipe hunt. Everybody would have a big laugh and completely ignore whatever "input" the college boy had to offer.

Along the way, of course, somebody started to figure out that at least some of what the "atom smashers," as one driver has long called engineers on his team, were talking about might actually make their race cars go faster.

Then, somebody won a race and decided they won it because of something somebody worked out using a computer or a simulation on it. From that moment until today, the influence of engineers and the tools they bring with them has continued to grow in stock-car racing.

Maybe that pendulum has swung too far?

Maybe now, you've got a bunch of engineers sitting around deciding how to build the best race car for a virtual world, guys with college degrees and IQs that look like lap speeds at Talladega who don't trust anything that doesn't come straight from the data.

Maybe now when somebody who knows what it's like to crawl around under a car instead of only flying over a three-dimensional representation of it on his laptop is treated with the same derision as the engineers once got.

Hey, Skippy, how about going to the warehouse and getting us a carton of those invisible printer ribbons?

I've run that theory by a few people in NASCAR recently with expected results.

People who think the concept of theoretical racing has gone too far say I'm on to something. People who claim to know what a seven-post shaker rig is supposed to do look at me as though I had three heads.

There can be no doubt that technology has reached remarkably higher levels in NASCAR's top series in recent years, and that the rate of change in that technology keeps accelerating.

But I still believe that the people who put their hands on and in actual, real-world race cars have a vitally important role in the sport, too, and that's why I believe the test that will take place Monday and Tuesday at Lowe's Motor Speedway is so important.

Not everyone agrees.

"My personal opinion is it's kind of a wasted test, a waste of money," Clint Bowyer said. "With this car, you're just so limited. There's just not that big change you're going to make to make or break your car, speed-wise. It's all fine-tuning, finding the little things and massaging what you have."

Well, yeah. That's pretty much the point. Sprint Cup race teams have a new car they're working with this year and some of the teams seem to be having trouble getting the handle on it. Most of the time they can make it go around the track, for sure, but the little things seem to be what separate the best teams from the rest of the teams.

Maybe there won't be any eureka moments at the LMS test, at which nearly 50 teams are expected. There are three sessions each day - morning, afternoon and night - and each team can choose four of the six in which to run. But if four or five teams find something that will help them run better in the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600, and those teams run better and make the racing better during Charlotte's race weeks, then I will have to respectfully disagree with Bowyer's assessment of this being a "wasted" effort.