Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway are similar but not identical, but this year’s repaving project at Daytona might bring the two tracks closer together competition-wise.
“It’s going to be more like Talladega,” said Bobby Labonte. “There will be more pushing, more shoving, more drafting like that.”
Drivers turned laps in the 196-197 mph range Wednesday and Thursday and reported no issues with the track or Goodyear’s new tires, which were developed largely in tests on the Talladega surface. The enhanced grip will change the racing considerably, they said.
“I think everybody is happy with the surface and the tire combination,” Jeff Burton said. “I think it’s going to be a Talladega-style race for sure. You’re going to have to change mindsets a little about how to do the Daytona thing.
“We’ve had some great Daytona 500s in the last several years. The ends of the races have been great. We’ve seen separation of cars because of the handling issues during the race. You’re not going to see that this time. There’s going to be a constant pack.”
Burton praised the resurfacing job, saying the five-month project retained Daytona’s special qualities while increasing safety with a wider pit road.
“It’s much smoother with a tremendous amount of grip, but it’s still Daytona,” Burton said. “I’m glad that’s what they did. Daytona 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.”
NASCAR vice president Robin Pemberton’s analysis after a day and a half of testing was, “So far, so good. The plan has come together. The speeds are pretty good.”
Pemberton said this week’s speeds, which probably will increase in mid-January testing at the track, might require a restrictor-plate change. “But, so far, all indications are that everything has hit its marks,” he said.
Pemberton said there were no significant problems with new nose configurations on cars or with the use of new ethanol-mixture fuel in some cars.
Track president Joie Chitwood said February’s races at DIS will be particularly important after the sour taste left by the 2010 Daytona 500, a race delayed twice by long red flags after a large pothole developed in the racing surface.
“Last year was a big wakeup call,” Chitwood said. “I think Daytona is always going to set the barometer for the NASCAR season. Fans expect a certain sort of racing when they come here, and, candidly, we did not give them that this past year with the two red flags and the pothole.
“Daytona is the flagship brand for ISC (International Speedway Corp.). We were going to make sure we did it right and that when our fans come back to SpeedWeeks that this track lives up to the reputation we have for the Daytona 500.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.