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Two prove faster than one at Daytona practices

February 11, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Friday's pair of practice sessions for Speedweeks' opening event, the Budweiser Shootout, offered little difference than what was seen last month at Daytona International Speedway in testing -- despite top speeds over 203 mph.

Two cars once again proved to be quicker than any larger group -- with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Joey Logano collaborating on the Friday's best lap of 203.087 mph, by Logano's lead car. That was nearly 5 mph faster than any speed seen at last month's three-day test, when Brad Keselowski topped the charts at just over 198.6 mph.

"Everybody's trying to figure out who to push, and how to push and how long to push," Busch said after the first practice. "It's a bit complicated. When you get back in the pack, we're all locked-up and you work on your draft and you work on trying to get through there.

"And you get hooked up with somebody, but then what do you do when somebody jumps in front of you? I think that's where the mess is probably going to come from."

It didn't happen Friday, when the only caution in 105 minutes of practice was a 13-minute break when the lights went out between Turn 1 and Turn 3 at the 2.5-mile tri-oval. The group of cars that were scattered around the speedway when it happened returned safely to pit road.

The 10 fastest laps in Happy Hour, which wasn't extended after the delay, were at 200 mph or better, with 2009 Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth 10th at 200 on the mark. Kenseth and his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards had the two best 10-lap average segments of Happy Hour, with Kenseth averaging 197.774 mph between laps 19 to 28, and Edwards, 197.725 mph between laps 23 to 32.

In the first practice session, Dale Earnhardt Jr. forecast what was coming in Happy Hour when he turned the best lap in 199.862 mph.

As the teams found out in January, with two-car breakaways being the fastest combination, keeping the back car from overheating is one key, but switching positions efficiently is the ultimate according to defending Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray.

"It's about making the exchange and getting hooked up fast enough," McMurray said. "Because there'll be three seconds that can be gained or lost in the exchange... And the way two cars can work together, I don't really think anyone will really be able to pull away."

"The hardest thing to do," two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip said, "is to get [the cars] hooked together. We really need a lot of practice getting behind someone, and then getting locked to them; it's not a given. It's really two guys working together. The guy in front's got to roll off his gas and the guy in back's got to get to him, but not just clobber him...

"And when you get it together, whew -- it's fun. It's like that feeling you have, right before you crash. But when you keep doing it lap after lap, and you don't ever crash, you begin to assume maybe it'll keep going straight. And it's a little bit safer to get broken-away [from the pack] like that."

Ultimately, 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman said there were no guarantees.

"We've always tried to make plans -- we've just never been able to fulfill 'em -- even the guys that win the race," Newman said. "Sometimes you just go impromptu. But [the two-car breakaway] is definitely unique, I'll tell you that."

Newman was one of six drivers -- including his team owner Tony Stewart, two of the three Richard Childress Racing cars and both Earnhardt Ganassi cars, McMurray and teammate Juan Montoya -- that didn't run in Happy Hour.

"We felt pretty confident with what we did in the off-season and in the test down here," Newman said. "And I don't think that any plan is going to be 100 percent available [anyway]. You'll have some ideas of what you can do and what you might be able to do and what you would do -- but I don't think you're going to see any true answers until the last 10 laps of what we're thinking might be a pretty wild race."

Two-time defending Shootout champion and 2007 Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick was middle-of-the-pack on both times sheets, with a best lap in 200.835 mph.

NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp downplayed thoughts of a possible smaller restrictor plate, saying, "We're going to continue monitoring speeds [Saturday] in practice to determine if any action needs to be taken."