2011-01-27 / Sports

Teams Near 200 MPH In Daytona Testing

By Gerald Hodges
THE RACING REPORTER

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After two days of testing at a chilly and overcast Daytona International Speedway, drivers were ready to stick by each other’s sides on Saturday.

Literally.

Jamie McMurray, the defending Daytona champ, had the fastest time on Friday.

“The track is really good and the racing is going to be closer to what Talladega has except for the fact the track is quite a bit narrower,” said McMurray. “I think when you see two cars get locked together, that if someone wants to pull up and block, he’s going to have the ability to do that. It can be good or bad. Talladega is just so wide that you can really only block one time and then the guys can go the other direction.”

“It will be interesting whenever you get all 43 cars out there. I did the tire test with Jeff (Gordon), and we really only got 20 cars on the track, and it’s a lot different when you get everybody out there. So I’m curious to see Shootout practice. I think they’ve got 30 cars, so it’ll be interesting to see what it’s like with more cars.”

Two- car drafting was the theme of the day as the sun finally made an appearance. Teammates took to the track to test the pull, push and grip of the newly repaved 2.5-mile speedway during the third and final day of testing at Daytona – a three- day series test in preparation for the 53rd Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 20.

During the Saturday morning session, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin swapped spots tailing each other and set the day’s top speeds with just over 197 mph.

“I feel like we’ve got a decent speed,” said Logano, who had the morning’s fastest lap (197.516 mph, 45.566 seconds). “Usually in single- car runs we were probably a 15th-place car, but I feel like we’re a top-five car in single-car runs right now. That’s exciting to know.”

Numerous teams opted for two-car drafting, including Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, Juan Montoya and Jamie McMurray, and Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski.

Keselowski recorded the fastest lap of the day at 197.746 miles per hour.

“I really think the racing is going to be great here,” said Keselowski. “We knew the track was going to be fast, but what we didn’t know is that you could draft so close together. I think the fans are going to love watching us race.”

NASCAR Managing Director of Competition John Darby wasn’t surprised that teams avoided multi- car drafting, instead relying on two- and three-car combinations.

“Obviously the guys are working on the tandem deal knowing that’s faster than the draft,” Darby said. “Everybody’s working on a little different agenda, and it’s all trying to find that edge to win the Daytona 500.”

Darby says it wasn’t about what teams and NASCAR learned during this week’s test, rather more about what fans can expect on Feb. 20.

“I think this test has done more in building confidence,” Darby said. “There’s always some anxiety around what happens when a track repaves.”

Last year’s repave – only the second at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and the first since 1978 – began after the NASCAR Sprint Cup event on July 3 and ended in early December. A Goodyear tire test on Dec. 15-16 was the first time teams drove on the repaved surface. This past week was the second time.

“All it has done is amplify the beautiful job they have done on resurfacing Daytona International Speedway,” Darby continued. “The grip is at an alltime high, the drivers are comfortable – that’s why you see a lot of the stuff on the race track, because they are comfortable in the cars. Sometimes there’s a fine line between comfortable and cocky but that’s what makes the race exciting. That’s one of the things that’ll make this Daytona 500, I think, different than any one I’ve been able to watch.”

During an interview session, Jeff Gordon was asked how the transition at Hendrick Motorsports had affected him.

“It really was a big move that was made at Hendrick Motorsports during the off season,” he said. “And I’d like to say the driver changes, not crew chief changes, because the drivers moved to different teams, so it’s really driver changes. And I think that when a move that big is made, it sparks up a lot of conversation about why would that have happened and what caused that to happen.”

“I think when you get here and you’re parked next to one another, I think that it allows you to kind of analyze, or at least the media and the fans to analyze the vibes among the teams.”

“And when you see me come in the garage area and me and Steve are laughing and talking about things, and same thing with the 48 and the 5 and everybody is happy and good and ready to go out and try to win the Daytona 500, I think that it maybe answers some of those questions.”

“The only issue I had yesterday is I drove into the wrong garage. But it wasn’t – I didn’t drive into the old 24 garage, I drove into Mark Martin’s garage thinking I’m the 5 team.”

“Other than that, everything was pretty good. And we had a great day.”

May be a change in qualifying

There may be a change from the qualifying order as teams have done in previous seasons, the qualifying order would at least in part be determined by speed in the practice prior to qualifying.

Teams in the Camping World Truck Series used the system a few times in 2010.

“ It is a possibility,” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby said. “We’re throwing a bunch of ideas around in the meetings with the teams. We want to finish all the meetings, get everybody’s input and then finalize some stuff.”

“The idea is to have the faster drivers, the ones who will challenge for the pole, qualify near the end of the session and add drama to the qualifying show. It is possible that the drivers not locked in the field because their teams are outside the top 35 in owner points will still be grouped together at the end of the session.”

Racing Trivia Question: What year did the televised fight between Cale Yarborough and Bobby and Donnie Allison occur at Daytona?

Last Week’s Question: Which driver has the most Daytona 500 wins? Richard Petty’s seven wins tops all other drivers.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodges@race500.com.

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