- Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 December 2010 20:49
- Published on Tuesday, 21 December 2010 20:49
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While we were freezing in Virginia last Wednesday and Thursday several NASCAR teams got their first chance to try out the newly paved Daytona International Speedway. There is an official test session open to all the teams scheduled for January, but important for those teams that wanted to get a leg up on what will be the hot setup on the new pothole free surface.
The repaving project, only the second in track history and the first since 1978, began immediately after the Cup race last July 3rd and was just completed two weeks ago. Despite the holiday season, a number of teams took advantage of the opportunity, filling the front stretch side of the garage with their haulers.
“I think it has gone really well,” said Jeff Burton. “Everybody is happy with the surface. The tire combination seems to be really good.” Kurt Busch said “It’s just a new attitude. This is what 2011 will bring to start off our print Cup season. Big, exciting time. I’m proud to be able to say I got a chance to race on this surface when it was redone.”
Busch and Burton, along with reigning Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray and Bobby Labonte all visited the infield media center during Thursday’s lunch break. NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton, Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III, and Goodyear Director of Racing Greg Stucker, also participated in the midday press conference.
“Good communication all along between the folks here at Daytona, Joie, Goodyear, the race teams, the series directors, everybody that had input,” Pemberton said. “It’s nice to know you can show up at one of these things, having so many different things that we faced and challenges over the past year to get ready for this. Looks like the plan came together nicely.”
Burton was heartened that the repaving, while cutting edge, respected the venue. He cited the 2007 repave at Darlington as a positive example. “It’s much smoother. Has a tremendous amount more grip, but it’s still Daytona ,” Burton said. “They didn’t try to change the banking from the bottom to the top, do all that stuff. They just kept Daytona and put pavement on it. I’m glad that’s what they did.”
Although the focus remains on the racing surface, McMurray noted details like the wider pit road. “They did a really good job, not only on the race track, but widening pit road,” he said. “It’s really nice to get that little bit of extra room on pit road. Pit road speeds are really fast when you come to restrictor plate tracks. Typically, we have the smallest brakes on the car that we run all year long. Pit road is also trouble. So the fact that they widened it 10 or 12 feet is really nice.”
Media and fan interest is also accelerated. A portion of the grandstand was open to the public both Wednesday and Thursday. “It’s really important,” Labonte said of public and media fanfare . “They have a section open for the fans. They can come down here and see us drafting. I’m sure they’ve got their cameras out taking videos to show their buddies. It’s the first time we’ve been to the new facility, it’s exciting.”
It’s worth noting that last week’s test was conformation, not a search process. Stucker said a tight calendar meant Goodyear officials did the bulk of their compound research at Daytona’s sister track, Talladega Speedway, the only other restrictor plate track on the circuit.
Drivers, teams and NASCAR officials all draw natural comparisons off Talladega, which was repaved prior to the 2006 season. ‘We’re well into tire production for this year’s Daytona 500,” Stucker said. “We’ve come down here and really confirmed that all those decisions we made were the right ones. I’m very glad to hear that all the guys are comfortable with our set up, and really everything we’ve seen so far has been very good from our perspective, very consistent, a lot of good comments from the drivers.”
Speedway president Joie Chitwood III said the repaving project only enhances the allure of the Daytona 500. “I think when we market Daytona, we market the fact that this is the biggest event we have on the calendar. This is how you make NASCAR stars, you win the Daytona 500.”