DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Pony cars have made their long awaited arrival to the Nationwide Series, but there are still kinks to be worked out.
More than 25 teams shook down their cars at Daytona International Speedway on Tuesday in anticipation of the new vehicle's debut this July. Kevin Harvick led the speed chart in morning testing of the new Nationwide car.
Harvick, who posted a lap of 181.598 mph, says the new car is "a 180" degree shift from the current Nationwide Series car with its wider nose, larger cockpit and 110 inch wheelbase.
"It's one of those things where what we've currently been driving has been around for a long time, and we've got more power with this car," Harvick said. "But the biggest thing is that the room inside the car is just drastically better. You've got room to move around. Your head's not rubbing the roof like they are in the current cars. That's the biggest difference. From a safety aspect, there's just no comparison."
When it comes to driving the car, Harvick didn't notice "that big a difference" at Daytona, but expected it to change on tracks such as Michigan.
Fresh after sweeping both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Dover last weekend, Kyle Busch experienced a "similar" ride between the two generations of cars.
"It's kind of a mix of the old car and what the COT (Car of Tomorrow) is," Busch said. "It's right about where I expected it to be."
Busch had the 18th fastest car in morning practice, before topping the afternoon speed chart (185.395 mph) on his second lap while drafting with his protege (and newly named Roush Fenway driver) Brian Ickler.
"The new car is not bad," Busch said after the drafting session. "It's just really loose for everybody. It's loose in the draft around other cars and stuff."
NASCAR met with drivers and crew chiefs for feedback on the new car after the first day of testing. Most of the drivers echoed Busch's sentiments about the car being too loose. The sanctioning body will work with the teams to make the cars less free, and acknowledged it will be a gradual process.
Series director Joe Balash said "we're just eight hours into a 20-year experiment with this car."
Many of the veteran Nationwide racers agreed that developing a new car that is closer to the Sprint Cup car will help drivers transition into NASCAR's top tour.
"Certainly, from getting in the car and the pedals and the wheel base and those basic things, yes, it will help out for that scenario," Keselowski said. "The speed difference will be the biggest gap between the two series. My car today was running somewhere around 179 mph and the Cup cars run quite a bit faster than that.
"There's obviously a speed difference. That last little bit of speed makes a huge difference on the race track."
Trevor Bayne's afternoon run went up in flames -- literally -- after a loose fuel caused a fire on the No. 99 Diamond-Waltrip Racing Toyota.
"I smelled fuel on the backstretch when I was making my run there and we were about to come in so I just came down pit road, got to the front stretch and went to turn into the pits and (the fire) blew through the firewall," Bayne said. "I don't know what caused the first. We had just done a little carburetor change up there so I don't know if the fuel line worked its way loose up to that change or what."
Bayne, who is currently 14th in the NNS points, took a major hit during the nine-car wreck triggered by Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer at Dover race on Saturday. He was still feeling discomfort with his foot on Tuesday.
"The foot didn't bother me when the car caught fire," Bayne said. "I just wanted to get out of the car."
Ford Racing's transformation in the Nationwide Series will include not just a new generation car, but a new model as teams transition from the Fusion to the Mustang.
Roush Fenway Racing's Ricky Stenhouse says the two makes are "totally different".
"The Nationwide car with the Fusion is at one end of the spectrum and the Mustang is at the other," Stenhouse said. "The Nationwide car, you can run around here wide-open and be comfortable in it. Right now, the Mustang is loose, but, then again, I look at it as maybe a good thing.
"You've really got to drive it. It's not just hold it on the mat and see who is gonna be there to cross the finish line at the end. I think it's gonna be interesting and I think it's gonna be more of a handling race track than we've seen in the Nationwide cars in years past."
Stenhouse offered a sneak peak at his new sponsor Blackwell Angus Beef for the Subway Jalapeno 250.
Greg Sacks will celebrate the silver anniversary of his 1985 Pepsi Firecracker 400 win by making his debut behind the wheel of the No. 88 Grand Touring Vodka Chevrolet with JR Motorsports. Tony Eury Sr. will be Sacks' crew chief.
Sacks, who lives in nearby Port Orange, Fla., and is a founder of Grand Touring Vodka, says the 25-race sponsorship deal (over two years) came together with JRM this winter.
"We look at this brand as an instant classic and what better way to launch a classic than with a team whose owners' father was responsible for so many classic moments in NASCAR," Sacks said. "I can't wait to race alongside Dale Jr. in the No. 3 Wrangler car (at Daytona). I'll be the only driver out there that can say I raced against his father the first time that car appeared on the track."