DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Although NASCAR encouraged teams to run in larger packs during the first day of testing at the Daytona International Speedway, most avoided pack racing – and the real chance of crashing.
A lack of parts and pieces has put most teams behind in their preparation for the Feb. 24 Daytona 500. Unlike previous years, most teams only have one car for the three-day session. Carl Edwards is the only driver who said his team brought two cars.
“Our Daytona 500 car is back home on the setup plate without a body,” Kurt Busch said. “Everyone’s a little behind getting their trunk decks from NASCAR.”
The sanctioning body didn’t complete its rules package for the new cars until last month, which didn’t give it a lot of time to produce the mandatory parts for every team. In fact, some teams didn’t get their body parts until earlier this week.
And it certainly didn’t give teams enough time to build back-up cars.
Manufacturers are responsible for providing the sheet metal and front hood. NASCAR has a vendor that’s responsible for making the rear trunk decks. About 50 decks were available last week, NASCAR vice president Robin Pemberton said. Another “two dozen” will be ready today. After that he expects about 50 to be available every Friday.
Until then, teams either have to play it safe or use prototypes that may not provide the same results as the real thing.
“We can’t take the chance of tearing things up,” car owner Michael Waltrip said. “It’s a real challenge. This is the greatest challenge in our sport, ever.”
Teams also expect some changes to the rules during this week’s test and next week’s schedule test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. For that reason, many aren’t willing to commit to building a lot of cars in advance that could be outdated before they ever hit the track.
“With a little bit of overtime we’ll be at Daytona,” Waltrip said.
Crew chief Kevin Manion said his team will work 16 hours a day to get cars ready for drivers Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Thursday’s morning block was dedicated to single-car runs to get ready for pole qualifying on Feb. 17. The afternoon session was supposed to involved large drafts to help everyone learn was the new body styles will do in traffic.
With the exception of a few two-car tandems by teammates, everyone avoided the temptation to run in big packs.
For crews that have to build cars, it was the best way to gather information. For the drivers, however, the day proved tedious.
“Are we going to be able to even bump draft? Like I said, that’s why we’re down here,” Clint Bowyer said. “Everybody has different agendas. There’s new teams down here, new driver lineups and a lot of things that are different, but probably as a sport we’re down here to try to figure out what this car is going to do for the Daytona 500 and make it as successful as we can.”
Matt Kenseth posted the fastest lap in the morning at 192.757 mph. Marcos Ambrose was second, followed by Danica Patrick in third, Jeff Burton in fourth and Paul Menard in fifth. Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski was 31st of the 34 teams at 189.669 mph.
Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth worked together in the afternoon which shot them to the top of the leaderboard. Hamlin was clocked at 195.712 mph, while Kenseth was next at 195.385. Kyle Busch was third, while Mark Martin was fourth and Jeff Burton was fifth.
Daytona Preseason Thunder continues today at 9 a.m.
WALTRIP TAKES STREMME’S 500 RIDE: Michael Waltrip will be in the No. 30 Toyota during next month’s Daytona 500, bumping David Stremme from the season-opener.
The deal is for one race and Stremme is expected to return to Swan Racing a week later at the Phoenix International Raceway.
Waltrip, a two-time winner of the 500, will be reunited with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and competition director Steve Hmiel.
PIT STOPS: Denny Hamlin packed up and headed home to North Carolina following Thursday’s test. His girlfriend, Jordan Fish, is expected to give birth to the couple’s first child in the next day or two … In addition to new body styles, there are other subtle changes to the cars. Driver names will be added to the top of the front windshield and teams will be allowed to place one sponsor logo on the roof.