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Daytona surface could wreak havoc

Friday, December 17, 2010

Associated Press


The Daytona 500 could have higher speeds, wilder races and closer finishes.

Drivers testing Daytona International Speedway for the first time since it was completely repaved agreed Thursday that NASCAR’s premier event will feature tighter packs — cars running three wide at nearly 200 mph — and increase the possibility for breathtaking wrecks.

“It’s going to be a lot tighter packs than I’ve ever seen,” defending Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray said. “It’s certainly going to be more Talladega-type, really close, restrictor-plate racing. ...

“You’ve got to hope that you’re going to make it to the end because the odds [of big wrecks] are going to be really good I’d say.”

The sport’s most famous track recently completed its second repaving project, the first since 1979, and drivers turned laps on the 2 1/2-mile superspeedway Wednesday and Thursday as part of Goodyear’s tire test.

The notorious bumps in turns two and four are gone, so is the pesky pothole that plagued the race last February, and pit road is wider for increased safety. The result is a smoother track that causes less tire wear, creates faster laps and more tight-knit racing.

“It’s going to be more like Talladega,” veteran driver Bobby Labonte said. “It’s going to lend to more pushing, more shoving, more drafting like that.

“Obviously, that’s going to lend to more things that could happen.” Labonte said. “Nobody knows that. If you sat here on a Monday and ran a 500-mile race with 43 cars and you did it again Wednesday and again Friday, you’d have three different races probably.

“It’s not a recipe. It just kind of folds out the way it folds out. You don’t really know, but it definitely lends to that.”

Eighteen drivers from six teams, including Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya, took part in the test. Some teams brought cars and engines from last season. Others tested their latest and greatest technology, including ethanol-blended fuel.

All the teams used a slightly smaller restrictor plate than the one bolted on engines at Daytona last season. The top speed was 197.5 mph, and NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said officials will evaluate testing results before deciding whether to reduce the plate even further.

“We may need to come down a little bit off of that, which would be like a 64th of an inch or something,” Pemberton said. “We’ll have to go back and talk to the teams and we’ll look at the speeds from the last two days of testing.”

Teams will return to Daytona for a three-day test in late January.

Not much is expected to change before then. Goodyear seemingly nailed the tire in the Daytona test.