Drivers Say Get Ready For A Wild Daytona 500
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
NASCAR drivers testing the new asphalt at Daytona International Speedway gave it the thumbs up on Wednesday and Thursday.
Good grip and great prospects for good racing in February’s 500 was the consensus.
“I think it’s going to be a hell of a race,” Richard Childress Racing driver Jeff Burton said Thursday. “It’s going to be constant packs” of cars.
“Big packs, big action,” Penske Racing driver Kurt Busch said.
Also in consensus was the opinion that the new surface could produce excitement in the form of big wrecks.
“I don’t know the percentages but there’s no question the more cars in one bunch, the better the chances are for an accident,” Burton said.
Several drivers said the new surface makes DIS more similar to the other plate track on the schedule, Talladega Superspeedway, where the biggest of the big wrecks tend to occur.
“I would say that it (the new surface) would tend to increase (the odds of a big wreck) for the whole run,” Bobby Labonte said. “Before, the first part of the run was OK, 15 laps in (of a run), everybody starts spreading out a little bit. I’m not sure you’re going to see it spread out (this year in the 500). It’s going to be more like Talladega.
“It’s going to lend to more pushing, more shoving, more drafting like that.”
Jamie McMurray, who drives for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, said the 500 could get really wild.
“I think what fans don’t see in the plate races is that we wreck about every lap,” McMurray, one of the best plate racers in the sport, said. “Something happens every lap that makes you flinch and it makes you think and you need to take a breath. And when you run really close together, it increases those chances.
“Everybody is going to run really close and really tight and you just got to hope you can make it to the end because the odds are going to be really good, I’d say” that more big wrecks are going to occur.
As exciting as the 500 may be, the Bud Shootout may be even better on the new surface.
“The Shootout is going to be crazy,” Burton said. “It’s just going to be nuts.”
Here is what drivers other and officials had to say during the two-day test, which is officially being called a Goodyear Tire test:
“It’s amazing the job that they did here,” said Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 champion. “It’s really smooth. It’s got a lot of grip. I think we learned a tremendous amount by being here.
“Not only did we get a chance to really see what we’re going to be dealing with here in February for the Daytona 500, but it gets us prepared for the test coming up in January.”
“They smoothed out all the bumps,” said Earnhardt Jr., the 2004 Daytona 500 champion. “The track is real smooth. It’s got a lot of grip. The track reminds me a lot like Talladega was like when they first finished it.
“The racing during the drafting was exciting and I think it is going to be a good show, a more exciting show for the fans because the cars are going to stay real tight on each other throughout entire runs.”
McMurray, who won last year’s 500, said the new surface and widened pit road will also make racing at DIS safer – for crews and drivers. He said that entry to the Daytona pits have been among the hardest in the sport. Busch called the old Daytona pits “treacherous”.
“It looks like green acres out there,” Busch said of the widen pits and bigger paves infield pads.
Drivers turned laps on the storied 2.5-mile-tri-oval in both single car and drafting sessions.
Burton said that while much has changed at DIS as a result of the repave, the essentials remain in tact.
“It’s much smoother, has a tremendous amount of grip, but it’s still Daytona,” said Burton, who wheels the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet. “They didn’t try to change the banking from the bottom to the top. They just kept Daytona and put pavement on it. I’m glad that’s what they did.
“Daytona is a track (that) has its own history, its own heritage. It’s entrenched in what our sport is all about. So keeping Daytona Daytona was 100 percent the right thing to do but it has a whole lot more grip.”
Said NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said Wednesday, “It was a very good day. The teams came well prepared. Goodyear came well prepared. The race track has a lot of grip. The surface is very smooth. It appears in drafting practice they immediately went three wide.”
On Thursday, Pemberton said because the new surface is producing higher speeds, holes in the restrictor plates may have to be reduced 1/64th of an inch.
The Goodyear tire test will wrap up on Thursday and is open to the public with free access to the Oldfield Grandstands through the lobby of the Daytona International Speedway ticket office.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.com Comments