By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
FONTANA, Calif. -- Before Friday's practice session at Auto Club Speedway, Brad Keselowski said it might be a good thing that NASCAR Sprint Cup Series engines are being stressed by higher speeds and high sustained RPMs.
In retrospect, after his No. 2 Penske Racing Ford team changed engines before Friday's qualifying session, Keselowski might want to retract that opinion.
There's no doubt that NASCAR's new Gen-6 race cars are fast. At a two-mile track such as Auto Club, however, sustained speed can create potential problems for the power plants.
"There is no doubt that this car is so fast that we're carrying more speed than we've ever carried pretty much at every track," Keselowski said before practice. "That isn't a bad thing, but it puts a lot of stress on the engines. There's a certain gear ratio we use to dictate what RPM band the cars are in, and, to this point, we've been using last year's model, which has put more stress on the engines with more speed.
"Maybe that's a good thing, too. I don't know. I think it pushes the teams to make their stuff a little better, and that's what this sport is about, constant evolution."
Two hours later, the team was changing engines. Early in the practice session, the engine in Greg Biffle's No. 16 Ford Fusion had blown, for an engine change in that car, too.
In compliance with NASCAR's one-engine rule, both Keselowski and Biffle must start from the rear of the field on Sunday. The Cup points leader and defending series champion, Keselowski will face a formidable challenge as he attempts to record his fifth straight top-five finish to start the season.
RECIPE FOR EXPERIMENTATION
With NASCAR's Gen-6 race car making its debut this year, and with five distinctly different race tracks opening the schedule, it should be no surprise that race teams are still trying to discover ideal setups for their cars.
In the case of five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, a win in the Daytona 500 and a third-place standing in the points provide more latitude for experimentation than most other drivers enjoy. That's not to say though, that working with radically different setups isn't endemic to the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization.
"We're still on the fence right now, and we have things going on with the front suspension on the car where we've been racing one way, we're considering another way, and we'll change it in and out during practice," Johnson said Friday at Auto Club Speedway. "Even the rear spring rates and such -- just trying to get that under control with what the attitude of the car wants to be.
"We don't have a deep notebook yet. At Bristol (last Sunday), I would say, even though it's a small track, would be probably the best example of all four (Hendrick Motorsports) teams going in different directions."
Johnson ran well at Bristol before he blew a right front tire and smacked the outside wall late in the race. Teammate Kasey Kahne, running a significantly different setup, won at Bristol for the first time.
"I felt like Kasey and I were pretty competitive throughout the race -- and he certainly won -- but our front ends on our race cars couldn't have been more different," Johnson said. "They were polar opposites, but we were both very fast and competitive all day long.
"With this new car, there are still quite a few things to sort out, and so, yeah, one of our four cars at least will race with a big unknown just because... why not? It's that time of the year to explore and experiment."
Kasey Kahne will leave California with something he didn't have when he got here -- a tattoo.
A photo on Kahne's Twitter account revealed the new ink job below the driver's left bicep. The tattoo read "RDP/KSK," the initials of Kahne's two late grandfathers, Richard Peterson and Kenny Kahne.
"I've thought about it," said Kahne, who got the tattoo from renowned artist Tim Hendricks. "For a while there I wasn't really into tattoos, but then over the last. ... probably a year, I've thought about it, and that's been really the only thing that I wanted, up to this point."
The tattoo was Kahne's first, and its purpose was to remind him of the good times he had with his grandfathers.
"I'm glad I did it," he said. "I saw it this morning when I woke up, and I was like, 'Man, I like that ...' For now, that's really it. I just enjoy the part of good memories, lots of memories. I'll see it all the time now and think more about some of those memories -- I like what I did."