Importance of handling returning to Daytona

Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads a pack of cars during practice Friday at Daytona (Photo: Greg Engle )

Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads a pack of cars during practice Friday at Daytona (Photo: Greg Engle )

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. –  Before Daytona International Speedway was repaved in 2010, there was a huge difference between the racing characteristics at the Birthplace of Speed and its sister restrictor-plate track, Talladega.

The latter was a wide-open, keep-it-floored affair, while Daytona was known as a handling track where a slick racing surface could play havoc with the ability of cars and drivers to negotiate the corners.

The repaving changed that. For the past few years, Daytona raced much more like Talladega. But, says Dale Earnhardt Jr., that’s starting to change, and the importance of handling at Daytona is resurfacing, so to speak.

“It’s starting to show some handling issues in the races,” Earnhardt told the NASCAR Wire Service. “We really didn’t see that for a very long time here. I think a lot of us were really surprised how Daytona turned out and how the cars drove…

“It was a complete curveball for me, and a lot of our (Hendrick Motorsports) cars, as far as how the cars drove and how much handling was important to being competitive. Everybody was scrambling in the (2016 Daytona 500), working on the balance trying to get the cars to turn and do everything they needed to do, because we hadn’t had to worry about it before.”

As far as Earnhardt is concerned, the quicker the asphalt matures, the better.

“We loved when this place was slick and bumpy,” he said. “The bumps were getting kind of severe in some spots and the asphalt was coming up in some places, but that was a great challenge. That gave the crews and the crew chiefs a challenge to get the cars to drive well and handle well.

“Everybody would haul butt for five laps, 10 laps, and then about lap 20 you would start to see the cars that were handling move toward the front. It was great. It was a lot of fun. So, I’m excited that the track is sort of easing that way—not as fast as we would like obviously, but the technology these days with the asphalt they put down is so much more impressive than what they had in the ‘90s and ‘80s. These tracks are certainly not aging as fast as they used to.”

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