NASCAR Learns A Lot From Daytona Day One Testing

Rush Hour at Vegas

About midway through Tuesday’s first Next Gen Test session at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR had the teams “grid up” and do a mock race run. The 17 cars participating all lined up and ran a flawless, but exciting 10-lap sprint session together.

Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Todd Gilliland led laps but it was primarily an exercise in drafting. A successful lesson. The cars were able to run two and three-wide and there was a lot of shifting and jockeying for position throughout the field on the iconic 2.5-mile high banks.

New Toyota teammates Busch and Hamlin spent much of the remaining afternoon making laps in a drafting session for two. And cars – including one driven by two-time Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. – turned laps and experimented with drafting partners until 8 p.m.

In the end, rookies Harrison Burton and Austin Cindric and the veteran Logano topped the speed chart. Burton’s speed of 184.264 mph in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford was tops in the first session. Cindric’s lap of 190.621 mph in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford led the second session of the day, over Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR officials said they were very satisfied with Tuesday’s tests and confirmed the new cars will use the 510-horsepower, 7-inch spoiler package at the big tracks, Daytona, Talladega, Ala. and also at the newly repaved Atlanta this year.

The speeds on Tuesday weren’t quite what is to be expected for practice, qualifying and race day for the season-opening Feb. 20 Daytona 500, but NASCAR Senior Vice President for Innovation and Racing Development John Probst does feel optimistic the cars are in good shape and fans will be pleased with the racing.

“I don’t’ want to jinx it, but I feel like we’re in a pretty good spot to put on a good show,” he said.

He conceded when the teams come back for the Daytona 500, he fully expects the cars to be faster – the team’s having picked up the intensity for the season’s biggest race.

Drivers were similarly encouraged by both the single car runs and drafting sessions on Tuesday.

“We don’t have them quite handling the way we want yet,” Team Penske driver Joey Logano said after the full field session. “They’re pretty new still to us. Bumping and shoving gets the cars moving around a whole lot and Kurt, myself, Denny and Ricky [Stenhouse] we were out there shoving each other pretty hard and racing like we were trying to win the Daytona 500.

“But it was fun just to try to understand what the pack is going to be like,” the 2015 Daytona 500 winner Logano explained. “Drafting is still drafting and a lot of the same things that worked in the past will still work now. But some things have changed. It was intense, to say the least.”

Another former Daytona 500 winner, 23XI Racing’s newest addition, Kurt Busch was equally as optimistic.

“Things are good,” the 2017 Daytona 500 winner said. “We’ve had some speed and we’re going through a checklist of items.”

Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota suffered a problem and parked about an hour and a half from Tuesday’s checkered flag, but there were no other major incidents and no accidents on a windy, chilly day and evening. The teams will be back Wednesday, January 12 for another session, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Unlike Tuesday, fans will not be allowed inside the speedway on Wednesday.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

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