DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The search for speed continued Saturday during the third day of Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway — among NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers with their race cars still intact.
After Friday’s 12-car accident during drafting practice sent many teams packing, single-car runs were the order of the day among those who stayed for the duration.
On NASCAR’s part, this year’s season-opening test was a sharp contrast to that of 2012, when the sanctioning body spent three days tinkering with the superspeedway rules package in an attempt to break up two-car drafts and to scale down speeds that exceeded 206 mph.
Even though the Cup series is transitioning to a new Gen-6 race car, the 2013 sessions required little manipulation on NASCAR’s part. Average lap speeds in the draft topped out at the 199.650 mph achieved Friday afternoon by 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, and NASCAR was comfortable with the results.
“We’re in the ballpark,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition. “We know the teams will go back, and they’ll work and they’ll bring a little bit better ‘this’ and better ‘that.’…
“We’re right in the ballpark, and we don’t foresee any changes.”
Pemberton acknowledged that one consideration in designing the Gen-6 cars was breaking up the tandem racing, which was not a fan favorite.
“When it was new, it was cool,” Pemberton said of the aggressive two-car push-drafting. “When it was a couple races old, the coolness wore off of it. It was something that wasn’t very normal for us.
“If you saw us last year at this time, we left this race track drafting at 206 miles an hour and went back and made rule changes based on trying to minimize the advantage of doing that (tandem drafting) and to minimize the appetite to do that, knowing that — if it was the fastest way around — you would do that late in the race to win the race.”
Ryan Newman was first to top 194 mph in single-car runs Saturday afternoon, posting a lap at 194.083 mph as the session moved toward conclusion. Pemberton said he expected the pole speed for the Daytona 500 to reach 196-197 mph depending on weather conditions.
WE HAVE LIFTOFF
In a Saturday story on the repurposing of the Kennedy Space Center’s shuttle landing facility in Florida, NBC’s “Today Show” reported that NASCAR had rented the Space Shuttle landing strip for straight-line testing.
That’s not quite accurate. A number of NASCAR teams, including representatives from the Toyota and Chevrolet camps, have been using the facility for more than a year, but the sanctioning body itself hasn’t been party to those tests, according to NASCAR officials.
BUSY SPEEDWEEKS FOR MICHAEL WALTRIP
Michael Waltrip announced recently that he’ll try to qualify for the Daytona 500 in Swan Racing’s No. 30 Toyota, but that’s hardly the extent of the restrictor-plate maven’s activity during Speedweeks at Daytona.
On Feb. 17, pole day at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, Waltrip will compete in the 2013 Daytona Beach half Marathon before running qualifying laps in new owner Brandon Davis’ Camry that afternoon.
The half marathon is scheduled to start at 6:30 a.m., with the race beginning and ending at the speedway. In between, the course will take runners through the streets of Daytona Beach and along the boardwalk.