When 17 drivers got a chance to test on Daytona International Speedway’s repaved oval last month at a Goodyear tire test, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Joey Logano wasn’t among them.
The Gibbs teams didn’t have their new restrictor-plate cars ready and opted to skip to two-day test. Team officials figured the three-day test session that begins Thursday should be enough to get ready for Speedweeks, which features the Feb. 20 Daytona 500.
For the 20-year-old Logano, missing track time wasn’t his preference, but he understood why his team didn’t go to the Goodyear test.
“As a team, it made the most sense for them to be back [in the shop], spending time in the wind tunnel, perfecting them as much as we can, trying to learn as much as we can before we go to the track,” Logano said. “It’s not worth going to the track if you’re not 100 percent prepared, especially as much as it costs to go testing these days.”
NASCAR expects nearly all Sprint Cup teams that plan to participate in the Daytona 500 to attend the three-day session on the 2.5-mile high-banked trioval, which was repaved for the first time in 32 years. Daytona officials were forced to repave the track after a pothole developed in Turn 2, marring last year’s Daytona 500.
This is the first time in three years that NASCAR has had preseason testing after eliminating those tests in 2009 and 2010 as a cost-cutting measure. No other NASCAR-sanctioned tests have been announced for 2011.
“I’m excited to get back to the race track,” Logano said. “I’m pulling my hair out. … It’s going to be neat. I’m excited to see what Daytona is going to be like. The asphalt, I’m sure, is going to be good and we’ll see how that is.”
At the test, teams will use restrictor plates with smaller holes than they did at the Goodyear test, where drivers eclipsed more than 197 mph in the draft. NASCAR hopes the reduction of plates from 30/32nds of an inch to 29/32nds will compensate for any gains made by the teams that tested last month and keep speeds from getting much higher.
The new pavement has made Daytona less of a handling track than in the past.
“Every year we’ve been to Daytona, you come in December [or] January, you can run wide open most of the run, then you come back in February, it’s a little bit hotter, the 24-hour cars have been on the track [for their race] and it gets slicker,” said defending Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray. “Certainly with the surface, it’s got a lot of grip, so I think you’re going to be able to run wide open.”
Teams also will be testing with a new nose on the front of their cars. The front splitter is now a piece molded into the front bumper instead of being held on by braces. Dodge and Ford used the change to tweak their front end designs while Chevrolet and Toyota kept their front ends the same with the exception of the NASCAR-mandated changes.
In addition to the tests, there will be driver autograph sessions and question-and-answer sessions Thursday and Friday nights.
Drivers scheduled to make appearance Thursday night beginning at 6 p.m. ET are Dale Earnhardt Jr. (autograph session sold out), Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards (sold out), Denny Hamlin (sold out), Tony Stewart (sold out), Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr. and Regan Smith.
Scheduled to appear on Friday from 5-7 p.m. are Kevin Harvick (sold out), Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann, Casey Mears, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson (sold out), Joey Logano, Kyle Busch (sold out), Paul Menard and Ryan Newman. In the 7-9 p.m. session, drivers scheduled to appear are AJ Allmendinger, Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, Jaime McMurray, Jeff Gordon (sold out), Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose and Matt Kenseth.
Tickets for the Fan Fests are $20 but free for Daytona 500 ticket holders. Infield camping also is free.