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Daytona Dateline: Drivers Dish on First NASCAR Test Session

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2011

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 20:  Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot Chevrolet addreese the media at Daytona International Speedway on January 20, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

NASCAR Sprint Cup teams hit the high banks of the repaved Daytona International Speedway for the first day of a three-day test session.

A press conference was held midday with Cup drivers Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet, was first up, and the hot questions for him from the media seemed more oriented toward his recent altercation at a track in Australia than the Daytona testing.

Stewart acknowledged his embarrassment over the incident and said, "One bad night out of a 30-day trip." He added he hoped to return to Australia to vacation and race again. 

On the subject of the new proposed point system: "Smoke" said he, "doesn't care about it."  So far as testing, his main concern is the transition coming out of Turn 2, and he hoped to learn more about drafting out of that turn.

Martin Truex Jr, driver of the No. 56 NAPA Toyota, said, "The track is very, very smooth."  He added his concern about Turn 2, saying, "It feels different—transition more extreme."  Truex didn't notice any difference with the new nose and said it would "level the playing field."  He, like many others, also expects three-wide racing all day.

Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford, felt the new proposed points system makes it simpler and thought it would be a good move.  Edwards had not been a believer in momentum too much, but this season he planned to "capitalize on momentum."

The Michael Waltrip Racing driver also felt the new splitter was more solid when it hit the track.  He and Edwards both spoke of the anticipated "wild" racing.  They felt the cars would not get strung out and there would be a huge pack throughout the races at Daytona.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil car, is really pleased with the continuity of his team from last season to this season under the guidance of his crew chief, Steve Addington.  So far as the change of the sponsor and car number, Busch joked, "It would be nice when people stop calling him Kevin."

As far as testing, Busch expected more fuel-only stops during the race, because in testing there doesn't appear to be much tire wear.  He said that they had three cars ready for Daytona, and they brought their "B" car for the testing.  Busch also said there would be an upcoming announcement from him regarding his NHRA drag racing.

Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, stated, "There are lots of areas I have to improve on—qualifying."  Since he has been in Cup racing, he said, "Every year we progressed in points, learned from mistakes and not repeating them."

Hamlin indicated the testing is rather "laid-back," but racing would be intense for the drivers.

Jimmie Johnson, five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion and driver of the Lowe's No. 48 Chevy, was next in line.  He said, "New year, new challenges, hope we're smarter."  He feels very confident about his team and really doesn't care about what the point system is changed to or what races are in the Chase.

As to testing, he said, "Very few areas to work in—get the car as low as you can without the splitter hitting the track."  Johnson feels the Daytona 500 will be action packed, with a lot of grip and multiple lanes.

Johnson said one of the benefits of having Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the same garage was having the same driver cockpit with the seats and dashboards the same because the two are similar in size.  

The Champion spoke of NASCAR trying to make things better, but other issues affect viewership.  He indicated perhaps the fans are overexposed and hinted at shorter races and fewer races.

Last up was Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet. He felt that the track was already starting to change a little since the December tire test, and that it would not be long before the track was slick again and bumps returned. 

Junior spoke of this season and said, "A lot of people expect nothing more than last year."  He spoke of the fun he is having getting to know Steve Letarte, his new crew chief.  Letarte is very energetic, and Junior said he "needed his energy to keep me on my toes."  The Hendrick driver added, "I'm sick of how we've ran the last several seasons."

On the topic of crew chiefs, Junior stated, "I don't know what the perfect match is."  He didn't know why things didn't work with his former crew chief, Lance McGrew, but said, "it didn't work."  He also said he and McGrew remain good friends.

Junior spoke of the resourcefulness of NASCAR and his pride in being part of the sport.  He added, "It's been a hell of trip."  The driver of the No. 88 stated he wanted to be in racing for a very long time, adding he would "stick around until I get it right."

The morning testing consisted of single car runs and only some of the teams would participate in drafting today.  After the noon break, a couple pairs of cars, Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers for one, ran nose to tail and it appeared to add about 10 miles per hour in lap speed when the cars hooked up.

So as the teams test at Daytona International Speedway with a new track surface, new gas and a new nose on the car, the consensus is the racing will be very much like Talladega was when it was repaved.  The difference is the cars would be consistently running three-wide at Daytona as opposed to four-wide at Talladega.

This is a testing session and teams remain cautious about getting into any large packs.  They will concentrate on the attitude of the car and keeping the sleeker new nose as close as possible against the track.

Fuel will also be closely monitored with the new E15 fuel producing slightly more horsepower, but decreasing the mileage.

The cars look much sleeker with the new nose.  The change of drivers, car numbers and sponsors will be a bit confusing for a while.  Testing is hardly filled with excitement, but the information extracted will be crucial to bringing back a fast car for Speedweeks.

Drivers seem to be in agreement that we are in for an exciting Daytona 500 and qualifying races along with all the other racing that will take place, the Bud Shootout, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Nationwide racing.

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