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Racing on new pavement demands trust, respect

January 24, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Drivers in agreement there won't be much time to relax during race at Daytona

Having any kind of clue about what kind of racing might occur in the 53rd Daytona 500 will have to wait for a day -- pending the weather -- because Thursday afternoon's Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway lacked large packs of cars drafting.

The track was available in the afternoon for drafts of any size but with the exception of Red Bull teammates Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne and the Michael Waltrip Racing set of David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr., that was about the size of it.

Drafting during testing at Daytona on Thursday. (Autostock)

"It'll be constant three-wide, four-wide. There will be no chance to catch your breath and relax at all. "

--MARTIN TRUEX JR.

"I don't why no one chose to draft," Vickers said later. "We went out and drafted some and were hoping more would go with us, but it didn't happen. I don't know why. I think most of the drivers find it significantly more entertaining -- but it's up to the crew chiefs. There's very little you can learn about how fast your car is while you're drafting, but I hope we'll get some drafting in before we leave."

Learning how Daytona's new pavement -- which was laid between July and December last year and has seen a two-day Goodyear tire test, several days of ARCA Racing Series testing and some sports car and motorcycle tests before Thursday -- will race is an intriguing subject, since most drivers are saying the drafting pack will be several cars wide and not prone to become separated.

Saving equipment might have been one cause no one packed-up on the track -- particularly at a test session. Penske Racing's lead driver, 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch, displayed his organization's unique take on the subject.

"One thing that's significant for us is that we have three restrictor-plate cars built for the 22 Shell/Pennzoil team," Busch said. "This is our 'B' car [that's being tested] -- this isn't even our 'A' car. We wanted to do that in case there is trouble in some of these drafting sessions down here."

The test is scheduled to continue through Saturday and, even though the forecast for Friday calls for a 50 percent chance of rain, teams came here planning to draft.

"There's five drafting sessions and ample time for things to happen," Busch said during lunch Thursday, when the afternoon session was still planned as drafting practice. "We still have to protect our best piece and that is the most important thing for Speedweeks -- making sure that we put the best possible product on the starting grid for the Daytona 500. It's going to be about survival."

And to survive, it seems, is going to take plenty of cooperation, tempered with respect and trust, among the 43 competitors that make the "Great American Race."

"I think the biggest thing about it is nobody wants to crash, so everybody tries to do the right thing most of the time -- 99 percent of the time," Martin Truex Jr. said. "White flag comes out, that's when nobody lifts and that's when you see things happen, in my opinion."

Truex, who forecast the racing would be "wild" with the possibility of some four-wide racing, cited Talladega's mid-decade repave as an example of what to expect.

"I'm sure somebody will try [four-wide] at some point, and if we get to the corner and we're five wide I can promise you there will be a wreck," Truex said. "Honestly, you look back at the last few Talladega races with the new asphalt being smooth, everybody can run wide [open] all day -- everybody handles good. It comes down to how many cars can you fit in that space? That's how many we're going to try to get in there."

"I think Martin said it best -- it's just going to be wild," Carl Edwards said from his seat next to Truex. "The track is so smooth and has so much grip that there's no telling what people will try. You know, the last lap is going to be insane."

"There's going to be times when a guy goes to make it four-wide and he doesn't know it's already four-wide," Truex said. "But I think three-wide around here is even pretty tight [but] it'll be three-wide all day, like Talladega is four-wide all day, and that's just how it's going to be."

And that calls into question respect and exercising give and take.

"Being in the sport now for 10 years, you see different guys with different levels of respect for one another," Busch said. "Being a new guy, it's hard to get respect but at the same time, you don't really give the respect because you haven't really felt where your place is in that certain portion of time.

"Being that it's a new asphalt surface, everybody's just going to be going for broke. With the way that handling's just out the window now and it's going to be about aggressive bump-drafting and it's all going to be about being in the right place at the right time and it's just going to make it more of a crapshoot."

"You know, it's just such a dynamic race," Edwards said. "If you're in the middle of the pack, everybody is trying to get a little advantage or sometimes guys are trying to pull out and cool their engines off or whatever -- and there are times where you get put in a position and you realize, 'man, if this guy behind me doesn't lift a little bit or if this guy doesn't give me a little space, it's over.'

"It's pretty amazing how well everyone works together. There have been a few times racing at these restrictor-plate tracks where I could not thank the guy enough, running next to me, for realizing what's going on and moving over or giving me a break.

"I've only been doing this for five or six years now, but it seems like everyone is just getting better and better at giving and taking at these races. That can all change in an instant. A guy will leave you out or bump into you or move you, but for the most part that doesn't happen until the very end."

Truex sounded like he wouldn't even want to make any bets before that.

"There's going to be no stringing out, there's going to be no handling where guys have to start lifting and it gets double file and then it gets single file -- the long runs," Truex said. "The pack is never going to get spread out. Green flag pit stops may obviously come into play a little bit because that tends to make two or three different packs -- but if everybody decides that they're going to race and try to stay up front and not lay back and try to save their stuff, it's going to be a big huge pack, and everybody is going to be in it all day long, and it's never going to it's just never going to separate.

"So it'll be constant three-wide, four-wide. There will be no chance to catch your breath and relax at all."

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