NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will be on the track a day early this week when preparations begin for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
A full day of testing is scheduled for Thursday to give Cup teams the opportunity to gather data on the 1.5-mile track located just a few minutes from the world-famous Las Vegas Strip.
That additional time should be tremendously beneficial as the scramble continues to understand the new Generation-6 car, said Steve Addington, crew chief for three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart.
"It will help us a ton," Addington said after his driver wrapped up an eighth-place finish last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. "It's just learning. It's going to take us a few races, I think. The Las Vegas test will help (but) it won't tell us what will happen when we get 43 cars out there again.
"We need to try to get some time to run with a couple of cars and see ? how it affects the car on the mile-and-a-half tracks. We've got teammates; we can get out there with three cars and see what it does to the cars. We've got to use that."
It's been eight races since Stewart led a Cup event, and 20 since he last rolled into Victory Lane. The combination of a 41st-place finish at Daytona International Speedway and Sunday's eighth-place run at Phoenix has him 23rd in points.
Stewart, 41, said while passing was possible at Phoenix, "it was harder ? the further back you were (in the field.)
"I think it was just a matter of where you cycled on the pit stops as far as when everybody figured out you had to take two tires (rather) than four," he said. "It was just a matter of figuring out where in the (pit) cycle you were and whether you could get back the track position.
"When we got up to the top three or four there we had good speed, but when you got hemmed up in the back there it was hard to make that ground."
With much of the focus on getting cars built and preparing for Daytona, teams had little time to test with the current rules package at different venues. Two tests at Charlotte Motor Speedway were for the benefit of NASCAR as much as to help teams, while smaller, flatter tracks such as Phoenix were almost an afterthought, leaving some, as Addington said, with a "shot in the dark" approach.
"We were just seeing if we could get some grip in the front end of the car and I think we gained grip but we hurt ourselves with aero platform a little bit," he said. "We just missed it. We just didn't adjust far enough (between practice and race day) for it."
Stewart is the defending champion of this weekend's race; he finished second in 2011 and led 290 laps out of the 534 contested in the two races.
He also has the third-best driver rating through the previous eight races at Las Vegas. Points leader Jimmie Johnson, a four-time winner there, has the best rating, with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon second.
Overall, Addington said Stewart "seems to be pretty pleased.
"He feels like we've got room for improvement and we ran with those guys (at Phoenix) ? so we can get better and race them for (the win)," he said.
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- Steve Addington