FONTANA, Calif. – Parked in the middle of garage stalls 59 and 60 at California Speedway on Thursday was a single No. 20 Home Depot Toyota. That's not a good thing, because it means Tony Stewart's other car is on his hauler, wrecked, and having one car for testing instead of two makes for a much less productive day.
"We're not going to be able to do as much as we wanted to, jumping back and forth," Stewart's crew chief Greg Zipadelli explained. "There's not much we can do about that right now."
Earlier this week, the teams ventured west for two final – and extremely important – test sessions before the season officially begins in Daytona on Feb. 17. Unfortunately, for a handful of teams the first session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway proved costly, as no fewer than eight drivers suffered incidents that sent them to California Speedway with only one working racecar.
For some, losing a car now is an even bigger deal. California and Las Vegas are stops No. 2 and 3 on the schedule, and Zipadelli was planning on using the wrecked car as Stewart's back-up for both races. But when Stewart lost the wheel, Zipadelli phoned the shop back in Charlotte, N.C., and ordered a new car to be made ASAP.
If building an entirely new car seems drastic, it is, but that's a new reality brought upon by the Car of Tomorrow. Because the new car is so standardized, meaning each car has to fit very precise templates, getting them certified for racing takes longer, making it that much more difficult to get even a slightly-damaged car race ready.
"It's a lot more difficult," explained Zipadelli. "Those cars gotta go home and fit all the templates and there's a lot tighter tolerances than there was before."
Scott Miller, crew chief for Jeff Burton, agrees.
"The tolerances are so tight that you might actually have to work on a car that isn't damaged to get it to fit the template again," said Miller. "I mean, they're metal and they're stiff, but these cars still flex. The chassis flexes; the body flexes.
"We didn't chase that at all with the other cars. If they moved a 16th of an inch, nobody ever even knew it."
Miller hadn't designated a primary car or a back-up. Fortunately for him and his team, the car Burton didn't wreck turned out to be the better car.
Still, like Zipadelli, Miller had to call back to the shop to have another car built.
"It's certainly never a good thing when you damage a car, but we just basically carried on business as usual," he said. "We just gotta work a little harder at the shop to make up some lost ground."