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Daytona Preseason Thunder

Daytona Preseason Thunder

Daytona Preseason Thunder: Day 1

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The first day of this year’s Preseason Thunder test session at Daytona International Speedway was the unofficial start to the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season.

A pair of sessions comprised the opening day of the three-day gathering as teams took their first opportunity to get on track in anticipation of the new campaign.

Jeff Gordon led the way in the morning’s single car session with a lap of 192.773 mph with Paul Menard, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya rounding out the fast five.

Danica PatrickDanica Patrick, who in addition to her full-time Nationwide Series ride with JR Motorsports will make 10 Sprint Cup starts including the Daytona 500, was able to break into the top 10 with the eighth-fastest speed of the session.

"Well, today is just run on our own and seeing how fast we can get the car to go," Patrick said. "And then I think tomorrow we'll work on bump drafting. And I heard Tony (Stewart) say he's going to let someone else go do it first with the new rear spoiler and spring. So that's fine with me. I said I think I want to be the one getting pushed so that I don't want to be the one that takes out my boss. That would be bad. I said you can push me first."

The afternoon was spent with a drafting session and was the first real test of NASCAR’s new rule package for Daytona that includes changes to the engine cooling system, a smaller spoiler and a larger restrictor plate.

The modifications were made in hopes of breaking up the two car tandem draft that has become prevalent at both Daytona and Talladega. A number of drivers again paired up for most of Thursday’s afternoon runs.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Joey Logano were clocked at 202.402 mph during one run as the duo used the nose to tail drafting style that has become the new norm in plate racing.

However, Busch isn’t sure just how long drivers will be able to stay in the two-car formation because of the new rules package.

“We don’t know right now,” he said. We think it’s going to impact it quite a bit. We used to be able to figure it out how we could push and keep pushing for a run. Now, I think it’s going to be all the way back to where you’re only going to have maybe a lap or two.”

Clint BowyerThe only incident of the day came when new Michael Waltrip Racing drivers Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin were practicing the two-car draft.

“We were just practicing the tandem and were going to practice the switch and in course of making the switch I turned Clint around,” Martin said. “I learned a lesson and Clint is an incredible driver. He saved it out of the wall and I'm glad he's still got a car to test with.”

NASCAR will increase the size of restrictor plates 15/16th of an inch as well as limit the grille opening by one inch on each side for Friday.

"It's going to be wild," Edwards said after he was informed of the changes. "I'm all for higher speeds, less grip and make the cars harder to drive."

With a majority of today's sessions being single car runs the sanctioning body will be looking for more pack drafting to take place tomorrow.

"We'll gather our information, and we've talked to a few already, and they know it's in the best interest of everyone to get out there in larger groups, so the message will be coming down to them soon," said NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. "So that's why we have a three-day test. Generally the first day always kind of goes like this."

NASCAR also announced that they will ban multi-radio communication, which commonly has occured in the past restrictor-plate races, starting at Daytona.

"The teams will still have the ability to talk amongst themselves," Sprint Cup series director John Darby said. "If Chad Knaus wants to talk to Steve Letarte or Alan Gustafson, they'll have the ability to do that. The only thing the new rule controls is the actual car-to-car communication, which for the most part doesn't happen. It's not like we're taking away a tool that's commonly in use. It basically affects four races, so by putting the rule in play, it'll just make these four more like the other 34 that we run, 33."

Session 1 Speeds

Session 2 Speeds

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Daytona Preseason Thunder: Day 2

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing continued on Friday at Daytona International Speedway and speeds continued to increase.

Teams again participated in a pair of sessions with the morning runs featuring more single car efforts as well as tandem drafting.

Preseason ThunderMichael Waltrip Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. led the way in the first session, each posting a lap of 204.722 mph in the draft together.

“It’s just different ways of pushing and stuff like that,” Bowyer explained. “You can obviously go faster straight in line, but you can’t do it very long. I was just trying to see how long I could do it and we’re down here to learn -- that helps NASCAR figure out what they need to do to make the appropriate actions. We have another meeting at lunch and we’ll see what that entails.”

NASCAR encouraged drivers to pack draft in the afternoon session in order to gauge how the new rule packages would impact speeds and handling in a large group of cars.

Jeff Gordon, who has had one of the strongest cars in single car runs, enjoyed his time running in a large pack, especially when he wasn't pushing another car.

Preseason Thunder"I wish more than anything that we couldn't push at all, because gosh, I had so much fun out there today in those big packs when we weren't pushing," said Gordon, who posted the fourth best speed in the draft at 205.747 mph. "You can pass and the cars are moving around a little bit and kind of just reminds me of the good old days.

"Pretty happy with all the hard work that has gone into coming down here and preparation for Daytona. So excited about this whole year, really, and having a great car here at the test."

Only four drivers opted not to participate drafting in large groups, including Jimmie Johnson.

"We don't want to take any chances with this car,” Johnson said. “It's way too fast. We don't need it on a hook."

Kurt Busch and Regan Smith paired up to turn a blistering set of laps with Busch topping the test with a lap of 206.058 mph.

After the day was complete, NASCAR announced a change in the restrictor plate for Saturday's session that will see the size return to 29/32nds, which was in use on Thursday. There will also be a modification to the grille to make the opening more horizontal and a reduction in radiator pressures for the final day of the test.

"We're going to continue to work on aero packages and plate sizes and all types of things from now until the day we sign back in here at Daytona," said Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton.

Preseason ThunderBusch, who is making his debut at the test with Phoenix Racing, has thus far enjoyed the experience of working with his new team at the test after ending his tenure at Penske Racing.

"It's been a lot of fun to work with a small group of guys and thrash on just getting the car to the hauler to get the hauler down here on time, " Busch said. "Just how everybody on the team is just walking on cloud nine right now with the excitement, with the way that we've been running so far on track, especially in the single car runs, with where we did our mock up qualifying run, it put us second on the board as far as guys with the fastest laps this morning in single car runs.

"So just a ton of excitement, and the way the guys are together on this, it's going to be they're looking at me to grow and to learn, and I'm looking at them to grow and to learn, so it's going to be a lot of fun this year."

While Busch and team owner James Finch work on cementing their relationship in hopes of putting together a solid season for the one-car operation there is still talk regarding the tumultuous departure by the driver from Penske Racing.

Richard Petty said during Thursday’s announcement to introduce Smithfield Foods as the new sponsor for Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Ford that Busch wasn’t an option for the team because the company wasn’t interested in aligning with his personality.

Busch was taken aback by the comment and said he felt he had several options for 2012 including with RPM.

"Talking with King, it was weird to hear his comments yesterday because he was ready to throw me in the car and we would have been down the road,” Busch said. “But the contracts just didn't align on where they were and where I wanted to be, and so I talked with Finch, made the deal happen. But also talked with Waltrip Racing. I went to meet with Richard Childress at his winery and talk shop.”

Busch believes the discussions that took place in the off season and ultimately led to his joining Phoenix Racing could play a role in determining his future down the line.

But for now he’s focused on running for Finch’s organization.

"Just the doors that were opened during this off season to talk to people, yes, 2012 is going to be a unique year for somebody such as myself,” Busch said. “But to take a step back for me personally and look at all of this, this is what I need. And all along we're going to keep our eyes on the prize in 2013."

The final day of Preseason Thunder will kick off tomorrow at 9 a.m. (ET).

Session 3 Speeds

Session 4 Speeds

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Daytona Preseason Thunder: Day 3

The 2012 edition of NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway came to a close Saturday with a pair of practice sessions.

Preseason ThunderNASCAR continued to tweak with the rule package to find the right balance to bring back to Daytona for Speedweeks next month. Teams used the same size restrictor plate that was in play for Thursday's opening session after testing with a bigger plate on Friday.

Overall NASCAR officials were pleased with the feedback and and data acquired during the three days in Daytona.

"As everybody knows, we've been shrinking plates, growing plates and working on different parts of the cooling system, and the goal was to see what our limits were," said vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. "As you've seen over the three days, got big on a plate, now we think we're honed in on where we need to come back and start Speedweeks."

After Kurt Busch topped the 206 mph mark in Friday's drafting sessions, teams were more around the 200 mph mark Saturday with the smaller plate. Pemberton says that's a very comfortable speed to work with going forward.

Preseason Thunder"We've been over 200 for a couple of years now during the races," he said. "You know, we feel anything can happen, but we feel comfortable. We've done a lot of work in the wind tunnels, and I think if you saw the little contact today, cars stayed on the ground pretty good, knock on wood.

"But you know, at some point in time you drew a line, whether it was 200, whether it was just something to keep in mind and keep us in check. But right now I think we feel pretty good about it."

Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne led the way in Saturday's morning session, each turning a lap of 201.545 mph. Kurt Busch, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the first five.

The afternoon session again featuring stints of pack racing with 15-20 car groups turning laps.

Preseason ThunderWhether or not pack racing will be back in full when February rolls around or if the two-car tandem draft remains in vogue is still a question.

“If I had to guess right now and they lined us up to race I’d say that you’d see a pack for most of the day," said Denny Hamlin. "You’re going to see breakaways here and there but I think that for the most part the pack can run fast enough to keep up with the two-car tandem. The two-car tandem will get out there a little bit but I think that if you get a big enough pack with 20 or 30 cars they will eat up a tandem pretty quick.”

That session was not without its incidents with Jeff Burton getting involved in a spin for a second straight day this time after making contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Preseason Thunder"I'm not sure what happened," said a frustrated Burton. "I'll have to look at it. But believe it or not with all of this, we had a pretty good test down here."

Gordon led the way again in the afternoon session with a lap of 200.562 mph. AJ Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski, Kahne and Hamlin rounding out the top five.

Session 5 Speeds

Session 6 Speeds

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Speeds top 200 mph at Daytona test session
By Associated Press

NASCAR is making gains toward breaking up the two-car tandem racing that has taken over at Daytona and Talladega, but the fix sent speeds soaring over 200 mph Friday in a test session.

Kurt Busch posted the fastest lap of the day at 206.058 mph, but was being pushed around Daytona International Speedway in a two-car tandem by Regan Smith. Kyle Busch was clocked at 205.813 while pack racing.

NASCAR has traditionally shied away from the 200 mph mark, and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon said he approached series officials about the speeds because he was certain the cars would be slowed. He said he was surprised when NASCAR indicated it was comfortable over 200 mph.

It's embedded in our minds we can't go out there over 200 mph in race conditions, he said. Somehow it's become accepted and I think that's a good thing. It's very comfortable. It's extremely comfortable.

But it's unclear what the racing will actually look like when the season opens with the Daytona 500 - NASCAR's version of the Super Bowl - on Feb. 26.

Fans are clear that they want pack racing at Daytona and Talladega, NASCAR's two biggest and fastest tracks. Drivers figured out about three years ago that hooking up in two-car tandems was the fastest way around the track, and the style evolved so quickly, NASCAR couldn't stop it.

The end result was a two-car hookup in which the trailing driver was pushing the lead car around the track. Only one spotter worked for both cars, as the pushing driver was unable to see anything ahead. Overheating issues forced the cars to swap positions every few laps, and that maneuver added an element of danger because separating slowed the two cars dramatically.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France vowed to move away from the two-car tandems in November, and a series of aerodynamic rules changes have done just that.

NASCAR also banned driver-to-driver communications over their scanners.

It's all part of a continuous process, that could go all the way up to race day. NASCAR has changed specifications during each of the first two days of testing, and officials summoned the drivers to a Friday meeting during the lunch break to strongly urge them to pack race during the afternoon session. Based on the data gleaned from the two drafting sessions, NASCAR made yet another series of technical changes that will be applied Saturday in the final day of testing.

Last year, NASCAR made changes during actual Speedweeks in an effort to break up the tandems. More changes were made before the other three restrictor-plate races on the schedule, too.

Earlier Friday, NASCAR President Mike Helton indicated speeds will likely be much different when teams return for the Daytona 500.

(Speed) is one of those things that we have to kind of monitor, Helton said. ``It is a test, so we may be a little bit more lenient at a test than we would be on race weekend. But we'll see how everything settles out and what kind of rules package we come back with ... 204 is OK for a test. It's OK for now.

But we'll have to take back everything we learn and then make a decision after that.

But Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said after the drafting sessions that the final product will likely be right around the 200 mph mark.

We'll still be over 200 mph. We'd like to stay as close to that mark as we can, said Darby, adding that NASCAR's confidence of keeping cars from going airborne at those speed has improved through wind tunnel testing.

If we were to put a target mark, it would be right around 200, which the drivers like, the excitement level of 200 mph is always present for the fans.

The drivers seemed comfortable over 200 mph, and most were thankful to run in packs again. Gordon said it was just reminds me of the good `ol days.

But, most of the drivers admitted the two-car tandem will never go away completely.

Everybody was really having a good time, and trying to get everything they could out of it before we went back to pushing around each other, said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who pushed teammate Jimmie Johnson to a win at Talladega last year.

Maybe, just maybe, you don't have to be in a two-car tandem to stay with the lead pack. The two-car tandem is probably the preferred way to go as far as speed. But maybe you don't have to do it for 500 miles. Maybe you can just kind of save your car, save the tail and the nose of your car and yourself.

That might be the way to go just to get through the race, and be there at the end. But that tandem stuff is what is going to win the race.

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Good to see the cards back on the track again. It would be better though if I had my Fantasy winnings from last season though sad

Michael Cash
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