Johnson Fastest Of Slowed Cars

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Daytona International Speedway is supposed to be all about speed. But new rules for the Daytona 500 have slowed the NASCAR Winston Cup cars down to a crawl.

Defending Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, for one, doesn’t like it.

“Speeds are pretty slow,” Gordon said. “We’d all like to see us going a little bit faster. Who knows what these guys are holding back on. I don’t know what my guys are holding back on.”

Ahh, holding back. That’s always a topic of discussion when January testing at Daytona comes around. In the Winston Cup garage, it’s called “sandbagging.”

The fastest cars Tuesday – rookie Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his primary and backup car and Kenny Wallace – were all Chevrolets. Both Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. accused some teams of purposely going slow.

“You see some of these major Ford operations that are really far back there, really slow, and you see an organization like the 09 car that doesn’t have the resources of a Yates Racing, and they’re fifth-fastest,” said Johnson, who led testing for a second straight day with a fast lap of 183.816 mph. “It’s hard to believe that those guys are showing their whole hand. Makes you wonder just a little bit.”

The No. 09, driven by Geoffrey Bodine, is a Phoenix Racing entry, and that is only a part-time team. The fastest full-time Ford was Dale Jarrett, who was 10th at 181.925. The next fastest Ford was Dave Blaney in 20th.

“We didn’t have our group meeting,” Gordon said.

Gordon, who was sixth-fastest Tuesday, said his team isn’t sandbagging.

“We just go out there and run as hard as we can,” Gordon said. “That’s just the way we do it. You’re seeing different guys running different speeds today. I’m not confident enough to think I can hold back. We’ve got to go run hard and know what we’ve got when we come back here.

“I just hope there aren’t rule changes made for manufacturers leaving here, good or bad. Maybe they’ll make a plate change for everybody, but as long as they don’t do it for one based on speeds here.”

NASCAR mandated a 7/8ths of an inch opening for the carburetor restrictor plate for Daytona, and combined with a 55-degree rear spoiler, racing should change dramatically for the Daytona 500.

“Well, I don’t want to be negative, but I think we’re just about back to where we were before they made the changes,” Skinner said. “It’ll probably be a little safer for the drivers. I hope it’s exciting for the fans. I hope it’s not a follow-the-leader race. I hope we can still pass and have a lot of lead changes. I’d like to see the rules where the good guys in the draft where good race cars could break away like they do in the Busch Series.”

The draft, as always, will play a major role. But it will be different than the wide-open racing seen at Daytona and Talladega last year.

“I’ll tell you what: That race that ya’ll said was the most boring race on the face of the earth is still the greatest race I’ve been in at Daytona,” Mark Martin said of the 2000 Daytona 500. “If you want to look at some speed numbers, those would be good numbers to pull out. I know the cars ran fast enough under those aerodynamic conditions that we had the 45-degree spoiler. Handling determined where you went in that race. If you handled well, like I did in that race, you could pass cars without a drafting partner. That was fun racing to me.”

But Martin said that kind of racing can’t be repeated.

“I don’t think so,” Martin said. “The cars will probably be slower. And we’ve got 10 more degrees of spoiler, and the bodies themselves are more efficient. They’re probably making more downforce.”

And that will change the draft dramatically.

“The draft is going to be a much more methodical, more of a driver’s type of race,” Gordon said. “You’ve got to work on a guy, you’ve got to be smart. It’s not just pull out and pass when you catch the guy.

“There’s a lot more tactics and things that go into it. A smarter race car driver is certainly going to be key. But you certainly have to have a fast race car.”

So far, though, it doesn’t seem like anyone has a fast car.

There’s No Crying in Racing
Mark Martin didn’t want to get into a discussion about aero advantages of one manufacturer over another Tuesday.

“The last time I had any kind of discussion on that, I was accused of being a crybaby,” Martin said. “I won’t have that conversation with any of ya’ll again. OK?”

Marcis Needs Speed
Dave Marcis is hoping to make the Daytona 500 the final race of his career. If he does, he’ll set the record for most 500 starts with 33. Marcis was 17th fastest in Tuesday’s afternoon session at 181.569 mph.

“For a little guy and what we have got to work with – the money and the people and the experience – we’re kind of depending on Richard Childress’ guys to help us out,” Marcis said. “We’re kind of limiting ourselves. Right now, we need to go faster than we’re going. I don’t think we’re in good shape right now.”

There won’t be any sandbagging from Marcis.

“We need to pick up,” Marcis said. “We’re all working on little things. You’ve got to keep in mind you’ve got to put the car through inspection when you come back. With the rules changes with the roof thing, everything is quite different. We’re just working on little things trying to make some gains. I feel like we need to gain quite a bit.”

Gordon Won’t Use New Composite Seat
NASCAR approved a new composite seat designed by PPI Motorsports, but there won’t be a big rush to get the seats in Winston Cup cars. Gordon, for one, said he wouldn’t be using one right away.

“It’s something I wouldn’t mind heading toward,” Gordon said. “I like the PPI seat, but looking at it and actually getting physically in it and making it work are two different things.”

Ganassi wants Stewart – for the Indy 500
Chip Ganassi chuckled when he was asked about trying to get Tony Stewart a ride in the Indianapolis 500.

“You know Tony,” Ganassi said. “He’s like trying to nail jelly to a post sometimes.”

Ganassi, though, did say negotiations for Stewart to return to Indy in a Ganassi car is “moving along on schedule.”

Martin Loves Daytona Weather

Martin gets a nice break from travel this week because he lives in Daytona Beach. That’s nice, but he really likes the weather here.

“What’s nicer than that is the December and January weather,” Martin said. “December was really sweet. We had 80-degree days every day. A lot of the locals were crying that they wanted a change of seasons. Now they’ve got what they wanted.”

Temperatures barely crept into the 50s on Tuesday, but the forecast is for the 60s on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s Testing Speeds (best laps)
Dave Blaney 181.141
Brett Bodine 181.065
Geoffrey Bodine 182.186
Todd Bodine 180.897
Ward Burton 182.689
Kurt Busch 181.039
Stacy Compton 181.877
Ricky Craven 180.625
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 183.475
Jeff Gordon 182.608
Robby Gordon 181.745
Bobby Hamilton 181.620
Dale Jarrett 181.925
Jimmie Johnson 183.816
Buckshot Jones 180.448
Terry Labonte 182.282
Dave Marcis 181.569
Sterling Marlin 182.031
Mark Martin 180.466
Joe Nemechek 178.582
Ken Schrader 181.815
Mike Skinner 181.488
Kenny Wallace 182.756

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