MWR Fastest as Daytona Testing Kicks Off
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on January 20, 2011 | 5:10 P.M. EST
Michael Waltrip Racing teammates drafted together in the afternoon session. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Day one of the three-day NASCAR Preseason Thunder test session kicked off Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
For the first time in three years, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series participated in a preseason test at DIS and after last December’s Goodyear Tire Test, Thursday was the first chance for many drivers to turn laps on the new Daytona asphalt track surface.
The day consisted mostly of single car runs with some drivers testing out the draft with their teammates. Michael Waltrip Racing driver David Reutimann posted the top speed of the day at 195.780 mph with the help of his teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the afternoon session.
Truex Jr., who was second on the day with a lap of 195.776 mph, is looking forward to racing in the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.
“It's going to be wild. It's going to be fun. I love racing here,” Truex, Jr. said. “Here and Talladega are some of the funnest races for us as drivers until you get in a wreck, and then you're just pissed off, and you're pissed off until you come back and hoping to finish the next one.
"It's a helpless feeling to get crashed out on one of these races, especially when you have a good car, you're running up front. Everybody has a chance to win these things. It's like gambling, really. It's just a lot of fun to do it until you lose.”
Brian Vickers returned behind the wheel and joined his new Red Bull Racing teammate Kasey Kahne in the draft to post the third and fourth, respective, speeds on the day.
Tony Stewart, fresh off sprint car racing in Australia, was one of many drivers that were complimentary of the new track surface.
"It's actually impressive what they've been able to do with it,” said Stewart, who posted the fifth-best speed. “The only spot that really has seemed to be really any significant bumps in it is just where they had a problem, I guess, when they were paving turns 3 and 4 and the paver slipped a little bit, and it lost some of the gauge of the asphalt thickness. But it looks like they ground the front side and backside of it, and it's really -- it seems a lot smoother than when we were here with the pace car riding around.”
Stewart agrees with many other drivers that Daytona will drive a lot more like its sister track in Talladega now with a fresh racing surface in place.
"It's almost identical feeling to what we had at Talladega,” he said. “Obviously the transitions off of 2 and 4 are a little more abrupt than what we have at Talladega, but as far as the ride, you literally could hold a cup of coffee with the lid off full and not spill a drop riding around there."
The Daytona test is also an opportunity for a number of teams to display new sponsors and colors including Kurt Busch, who will sport Shell/Pennzoil identification – which adorned Kevin Harvick’s No. 29 Chevrolet in recent years - in 2011 after several seasons behind the wheel of the iconic Miller Lite Dodge. Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski will pilot the “Blue Deuce” this year while Busch moves over to a No. 22 Dodge.
"It's just good to be back behind the wheel, and I've got a great crew and a great team with a new look,” Busch said. “But we've definitely got a charged up attitude this year going out there to do the best we can and to be the best we can.
"It's just exciting to have a new look on the car and to have the new number, No. 22, that will take a little while for all of our fans and everybody to get adjusted to. And then when everybody stops calling me Kevin we'll be settled in."
Off-season personnel changes at Hendrick Motorsports aligns Dale Earnhardt Jr. and new crew chief Steve Letarte in 2011. Earnhardt, who will shoot for his second career victory in the Daytona 500 this year, assessed the new-look Daytona after taking laps in his No. 88 Chevrolet.
"Hopefully the track puts on a good race and it holds up well,” Earnhardt said. “I mean, it's going to get the bumps back and it'll get -- over the next several years it'll age a little bit, especially being down here next to the beach and the sand. It'll get slick and become the old Daytona that a lot of people appreciated. It'll get some of the bumps back that make the racing dicey in spots around the corners."
Clint Bowyer led the morning session with a lap of 184.219 mph in the No. 33 Chevrolet.
Testing will continue tomorrow beginning at 9 a.m. ET.