Daytona's first official test of the 2011 season gets underway tomorrow .
The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series gets off to an unofficial start this week with testing for the Daytona 500. Many drivers will be looking to experiment with different setups and strategies on the newly-paved two and a half mile super speedway.
Testing is the first opportunity for new crew chief/driver combinations to get familiar with each other and is also a chance for new spotters to adjust to the intensity of restrictor plate racing.
This week will also be critical for new drivers in the Sprint Cup series.
Steven Wallace will be embarking on his first NASCAR Cup race at Daytona, and he will be under the microscope from the first time he drives onto the track this week. The week will include cat and mouse games between the better teams and plenty of reconnaissance among the teams attempting to check out each other's equipment.
Believe it or not, anyone who tunes into Speed this week will have a tough time turning the channel.
NASCAR spotters benefit from this first test of the NASCAR season.
NASCAR spotters have one of the toughest jobs on the circuit. Daytona testing is the best opportunity for drivers and spotters to learn each other's strengths and weaknesses. The two must work together to eliminate the kinks before the testing session is over and more importantly, debrief after every session.
The better teams have a third party listen in on the interaction of the driver and spotter to critique their communication skills. This is important for both the driver and spotter because some drivers like a spotter that speaks very little, while others enjoy constant interaction.
Qualifying at Daytona is all about engine performance.
Daytona qualifying is all about the best engines and the best aero package. A driver's only concern when making a qualifying run is to mat the gas pedal to run the top of the track on the first lap and the extreme bottom on the second.
While watching Speed's coverage, it will be easy to see who is making a practice qualifying run. They will drop out of the pack and run solo for several laps experimenting with grooves and the bumpiness of the inside lane. Many drivers will run flat out and back off 1,000 feet before hitting the start/finish line so other teams will not know how fast their engine package may be.
Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton appeared to bury the hatchet in Las Vegas but others will make their rounds.
There were plenty of confrontations during the 2010 NASCAR season, and many did not even make it to the general public. Smart drivers who had issues last season with a particular driver will make their rounds and bury the hatchet before the new season begins.
Daytona testing is the perfect place to head off any issues with fellow NASCAR drivers, especially before stepping into their car for the first laps of practice. For drivers new to the series, like Steven Wallace, it will be a good idea for him to make the rounds before and after practice seeking feedback from veterans and younger drivers alike.
Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500 while lying low through Datyona Speedweeks.
The race to win the Daytona 500 begins Thursday and does not end until the checkered flag falls on February 20. Many drivers will get a feel for their cars under speed and then back off. Look for some of the best teams in NASCAR to be at the bottom of the charts during testing.
Many teams will try unusual engine and aero packages this week that may be borderline illegal. The purpose of this is to see what NASCAR will allow and where NASCAR will impose its will on teams regarding rules.
Testing at Daytona in January is all about getting comfortable in the draft.
January in Daytona is when NASCAR Cup drivers familiarize themselves with their cars' attitude around other cars in the draft and in three-four car packs. Last season many drivers learned they could break away from the field with cars they matched up well with in the draft.
With a newly paved track, speeds will be affected and strategies will once again change. Drivers will be looking for their car's best groove and the best style of car to hook up with in the draft, so there will be plenty of experimenting among teams.
Face time and sponsorship mentions will be plentiful as drivers give sponsors their money's worth.
Daytona testing is the perfect opportunity for NASCAR drivers to get in sponsorship mentions and practice their delivery for the regular season. Testing is always interesting when the drivers are pursuing camera crews instead of the other way around.
The honeymoon with the media ends in February though.
Tire experimentation will result in tire failures this week as teams test the limits.
With new pavement comes experimentation with Goodyear tires and plenty of failures. Crew chiefs will adjust camber, along with radical tire pressure, as drivers and crew chiefs try find the perfect combination for Daytona's new asphalt.
Other adjustments affecting tire wear will be teams working as close to the edge of the rules as possible this week. There will be wedge adjustment experiments and plenty of long and short run experiments with tires and fuel during this test.
Drivers will experiment with effects of bump drafting this week.
Bump drafting is a necessary evil on the restrictor plate tracks. One well-timed bump can push a car five car lengths ahead of the pack. One poorly-timed bump draft in the corner can lead to a 20-car pileup.
If drivers get overly aggressive with bump drafting this week, look for NASCAR officials to black flag testing and have a heart-to-heart with drivers before they let them go back out.
Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch will be two teammates to watch this week at Daytona.
Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski are both excellent restrictor plate drivers. The two run up front in most super speedway events and now they have a smaller, more focused 2-man team this season.
Busch is one of the best restrictor plate pushers in NASCAR, and Keselowski has shown he is one of the best drivers with car control on the super speedways. Look for these two to work together over the course of Daytona Testing, and they will be planning their endgame strategy leading up to the Daytona 500.
Other teams, such as the Hendrick Motorsports team, will be branching out into 2-team enclaves. Look for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson to work together this week during Daytona testing. Earnhardt will be pressed to step up his game with Chad Knaus in the same garage.
Crew chief relationships are renewed and established this week.
The vacation is over for NASCAR drivers and crew chiefs, especially those teams that have enjoyed time away from each other. They will now have to come back together and reacquaint themselves a month before the season kicks off.
The relationship between new crew chiefs and their drivers is also of the utmost importance in January for Daytona testing. NASCAR speak is different to everyone, so the sooner the crew chief and driver learn about each other's terminology, the better their season will be.
The crew chief must also learn what makes his driver fast and what makes his driver comfortable. During this testing session, crew chiefs look to test their driver's comfort levels to get the most out of the car and driver.
The crew chief is the member of the team with the most on his plate this week at Daytona.