NASCAR Preseason Thunder wraps up

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After two days of testing at a chilly and overcast Daytona International Speedway, drivers were ready to stick by each other’s sides on Saturday.

Literally.

Two-car drafting was the theme of the day as the sun finally made an appearance. Teammates took to the track to test the pull, push and grip of the newly repaved 2.5-mile speedway during the third and final day of NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona – a three-day series test in preparation for the 53rd Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 20.

During the morning session, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) swapped spots tailing each other and set the day’s top speeds with just over 197 mph.

“I feel like we’ve got a decent speed in the Home Depot Toyota,” said Logano, who had the morning’s fastest lap (197.516 mph, 45.566 seconds). “Usually in single-car runs we were probably a 15th-place car, but I feel like we’re a top-five car in single-car runs right now. That’s exciting to know.”

Numerous teams opted for two-car drafting, including Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet) and Ryan Newman (No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet), Earnardt-Ganassi Racing’s Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet) and Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) and Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch (No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge) and Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge).

NASCAR Managing Director of Competition John Darby wasn’t surprised that teams avoided multi-car drafting, instead relying on two- and three-car combinations.

“Obviously the guys are working on the tandem deal knowing that’s faster than the draft,” Darby said. “Everybody’s working on a little different agenda, and it’s all trying to find that edge to win the Daytona 500.”

Darby says it wasn’t about what teams and NASCAR learned during this week’s test, rather more about what fans can expect on Feb. 20.

 “I think this test has done more in building confidence,” Darby said. “There’s always some anxiety around what happens when a track repaves.”

Last year’s repave – only the second at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and the first since 1978 – began after the NASCAR Sprint Cup event on July 3 and ended in early December. A Goodyear tire test on Dec. 15-16 was the first time teams drove on the repaved surface.

This past week was the second time.

“All it has done is amplify the beautiful job they have done on resurfacing Daytona International Speedway,” Darby said. “The grip is at an all-time high, the drivers are comfortable – that’s why you see a lot of the stuff on the race track, because they are comfortable in the cars. Sometimes there’s a fine line between comfortable and cocky but that’s what makes the race exciting. That’s one of the things that’ll make this Daytona 500, I think, different than any one I’ve been able to watch.”

One driver already comfortable in his new No. 22 Penske Dodge was 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch.

“It’s gonna be one heck of a Daytona,” Busch said in the garage during the afternoon test.

Tickets for the 53rd annual Daytona 500 and Speedweeks 2011 events are available online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.

NASCAR Preseason Thunder

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