CUP: Tire Testing Underway At Newly Repaved Daytona

The newly repaved Daytona International Speedway surface, as expected, has more grip than the rough, aged one that had gone 32 years without a repaving.

NOTE: Live Streaming! The Goodyear tire testing press conference at Daytona Thursday, Noon ET will be streamed live online

NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers got their first chance to pilot race cars on the new surface Wednesday, the first day of a two-day tire test for Goodyear. Eighteen teams elected to participate, while more than 40 are expected for the NASCAR open test scheduled for Jan. 20-22 at the 2.5-mile oval.

Drivers apparently were comfortable going three-wide around Daytona, which is narrower than Talladega and typically featured two-wide with only occasional three-wide racing in the past.

“It is going to make for more exciting racing, more aggressive racing,” said Hendrick Motorsports’ Jeff Gordon in driver interviews provided by the race track. “I don’t think we’re going to see the two-car bump-drafting [for separation from the pack] like we saw at Talladega, but I think you’re going to see a lot of three-wide racing, which here typically in the past, getting more than two-wide, you could only do it for a short period of time.

“You’ll be able to see us race here three-wide lap after lap after lap.”

Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the first driver to take to the new surface during a day of single-car runs as well as drafting.

“They smoothed out all the bumps,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “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 [a few years ago].

“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.”

Drivers used a restrictor plate with holes of 15/16ths of an inch. That is the same size of restrictor plate used at Talladega in 2010 and 3/32nds of an inch smaller than what was used at Daytona in July.

Shrinking the size of the plate would compensate for the increase in speed on the new surface.

“It’s amazing the job that they did here,” Gordon said. “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.”

The tires did not fall off but maintained consistent grip, Gordon said.

“You never had the grip that you have here right now,” Gordon said. “You always had some kind of fall off. Usually the cars would get single file and get away from you and you had to have a good-handling race car.

“Now it’s just really about having a fast race car, choosing the right lines [and] finding a good drafting partner.”

Speeds were not released.

“I don’t even know the speeds of today,” Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood said in a phone interview. “With the track being so much smoother, they are probably going to be running much closer together. … The track is the same, but they’re exiting [Turn] 2 faster than they ever have before because they can keep their foot on the throttle.”

Chitwood said he did not speak to anyone from Goodyear but did not hear about any tire issues. The only incident came when Paul Menard and David Ragan got together. They were not injured.

“It’s smooth, it’s fast and it’s got a lot of grip,” said Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski. “It’s a little dirty, but when we get here [to race], the track will clean itself the more cars we have on it.”

It also was the first time that drivers used the new 2011 nose, which features the front splitter molded into the front bumper instead of held to the car by horizontal braces. Dodge and Ford slightly altered the shape of their front bumpers to coincide with the change, while Chevrolet and Toyota kept their shape the same with the exception of the standard new design of the bottom half of the front bumper.

“The race track has a lot of grip,” NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said in a statement. “The surface is very smooth. It appears in drafting practice they immediately went three-wide.”

NOTE: Live Streaming! The Goodyear tire testing press conference at Daytona Thursday, Noon ET will be streamed live online

Teams had the option to use the new 15 percent ethanol blended fuel or the standard unleaded fuel.

“The reports I’m getting is everybody liked [the track],” Chitwood said. “It is so much different than what they were racing on before in terms of changes to the track – the bumps, the dips, the waves, everything they had been feeling.

“What I’m hearing is everything is good. … I’m just happy that we got it done, everybody ran good and got good comments from drivers.” • Bank of America extends race sponsorship with Charlotte Motor Speedway