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More than two to tango during Day 2 of Preseason Thunder

January 12, 2012, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR informs crew chiefs of more changes to restrictor-plate competition

It took only 45 minutes of tandem drafting Thursday afternoon for Preseason Thunder's first crash at Daytona International Speedway. Michael Waltrip Racing's Mark Martin took out teammate Clint Bowyer with an ill-timed move in Turn 1 that didn't seriously damage either car.

With testing in full-swing, NASCAR took most of the day to determine three changes to its technical package, which they hope will discourage the prevalent two-car drafts during Day 2 of testing on Friday.

"I am pretty encouraged and pretty happy about the fact that I think you might be able to pencil in about a 195-mile-an-hour pole lap when we get down here for the Daytona 500."

--JOHN DARBY

NASCAR vice president for competition Robin Pemberton stressed that the rules package for Speedweeks and the Daytona 500 is still a work in progress and that it will probably take all three days of testing to determine.

In a mid-afternoon two-car draft, Kyle Busch turned the day's fastest lap with a top speed of 202.401 mph. Right behind Busch was Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano (202.388 mph), followed by the the tandems of Brad Keselowski (201.432 mph) and A.J. Allmendinger (202.220 mph).

During their afternoon briefing, Pemberton and Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said they were pleased with what they'd seen so far.

"We'll know when we feel like we're going to slow down the two-car push," Pemberton said. "We feel good about that and I think that everybody will. I think small doses of the two-car push are OK. It's a tool; it's like anything we do.

"When the competitors learn something, they'll use it when they can to their advantage and they're supposed to do that. We're here to regulate, hopefully naturally, how long you can have that push."

While Pemberton and Darby were in the media center, the three JGR cars hooked up and ran in a three-car draft. Their fastest lap in that configuration was a pedestrian-by-comparison 46.077-second effort by Logano at 195.325 mph.

In direct comparison, Darby said he was pleased that single-car runs, which dominated most of the day's action, were in the same neighborhood. But in fact, Jeff Gordon's fastest time in the morning session, which was only single-car runs, clocked in at 46.687 seconds (192.773 mph).

The bigger restrictor plate planned for Friday might help that and Darby might have predicted it in the briefing when he catalogued the changes debuted, and then adjusted them during the test.

"[The changes] were for a number of reasons," Darby said. "One of those was to put some excitement back into qualifying. I am pretty encouraged and pretty happy about the fact that I think you might be able to pencil in about a 195-mile-an-hour pole lap when we get down here for the Daytona 500 when everything is real and it all counts.

"That's exciting in itself because one of the places we did struggle with some of the old packages was that the pole speed was just  it just seemed way off. Qualifying day on Sunday for the front row of the Daytona 500 is going to be... It's going to have a lot of excitement back in it because the speeds will be back up where they belong. That's most of what drove us to put the small spoilers back on the car because that's what helped that situation the most."

A test and a Fest


Complementing the testing portion at Daytona is a special two-day Fan Fest event.

NASCAR called a meeting of all 32 crew chiefs at testing to tell them the restrictor plate size had been increased a 32nd of an inch, to a 15/16ths plate. In addition, NASCAR made two changes to the cooling system, cutting each manufacturer's grill opening by an inch on each side to make the radiator opening 3.5 inches by 18 inches and decreasing the pressure-release valve from 30 to 25 pounds per square inch.

"The rest of what we've been dialing in on and really working hard on is the cooling systems, and it's not there to give anybody a written guarantee that there won't be a two-car push because there will," Darby said. "There's speed there. Once a driver learns that, they're not going to forget about it. But our objective is to more control the duration of that push, which we've already seen is becoming a little more effective.

"We'll watch what happens [Friday] when we get more cars into a drafting mode and how that plays out and what style of drafting the drivers choose to try when they're on the race track and see how it all goes as we go forward through the test."

Several crew chiefs in the meeting said NASCAR had specifically asked for between 10 and 20 cars to participate in the mass drafts that fans told officials they prefer.

Carl Edwards -- who concentrated solely on single-car runs Thursday -- said he might do much of the same Friday depending on what his crew chief Bob Osborne and owner Jack Roush told him to do.

Told of what NASCAR had done technically and what they had requested, Edwards acted like a stand-up comedian.

"This is going to be wild [laughing]. I might watch that," Edwards said. "That would be fun to watch. No, it would be fun to go do. It's really up to Bob and how that fits into our plan and whether or not he's comfortable doing it. We're racers. That would be the most fun thing we could go do. But it could be expensive.

"Which car is Darby going to drive? I'm just kidding. It'll be fun. I mean, the track is smooth, the cars are safe and it seems like there's tons of grip. If we go run like that, we'll go do it. As a driver you want to go do that [but] it is truly a matter of whether Jack and Bob will let me go do that."

He based that on how much more difficult these cars are to drive with a smaller spoiler and softer rear springs that bull the spoiler even further down out of the airflow, reducing downforce.

When the dust settled from the day's lone accident, Martin and Bowyer had firsthand knowledge of what those mass-pack conditions might mean, and they had slightly different viewpoints.

"We're practicing tandems, you're gonna have to do it -- you're just gonna have to," Martin said . "It's gonna be really, really hard, but people are gonna figure it out and have a huge advantage to be able to do it so we wanted to get a taste of it. And what did we get, two laps and I turned him around?

"Gosh, Clint is a wheelman and I'm so glad he kept it out of the wall. He did an incredible job. I learned something and he learned something. I think the whole organization learned something right there in those two laps and we're going to have to keep working on it and trying to get better at it."

Bowyer was disgusted before he knew his wrinkled car was repairable and made it a point not to finger anyone with blame. Ironically, Bowyer had been one, last month, to predict possible mayhem due to NASCAR banning driver-to-driver radio communication this season.

"Everybody's trying to pick this [tandem drafting] up," Bowyer said. "You can do it and that's the problem ... it's an advantage so you're gonna have to do it. The cars move around a bit more than they did and when we made that switch it just pulled the air and turned me around.

Preseason Thunder: Day 1

Morning Practice Speeds
Pos.DriverTimeSpeed PosDriverTimeSpeed
2.Paul Menard46.785 192.369 18. Kasey Kahne 47.160 190.840
3.Kurt Busch46.787 192.361 19. Kevin Harvick 47.176 190.775
4.Ricky Stenhouse Jr.46.885 191.959 20. Clint Bowyer 47.199 190.682
5. Juan Montoya46.911 191.853 21. Mark Martin 47.225 190.577
6. Jimmie Johnson46.933191.763 22. Marcos Ambrose 47.238 190.525
7. Greg Biffle46.987 191.542 23. Aric Almirola 47.255 190.456
8. Danica Patrick47.004 191.473 24. Jamie McMurray 47.269 190.400
9. Jeff Burton47.019 191.412 25. Regan Smith 47.374 189.978
10. Trevor Bayne47.022 191.400 26. A.J. Allmendinger 47.419 189.797
11.Dale Earnhardt Jr.47.025 191.388 27. Carl Edwards 47.435 189.733
12. Tony Stewart 47.032 191.359 28. Brad Keselowski 47.504 189.458
13. Kyle Busch47.037 191.339 29.Casey Mears 47.508 189.442
14. Joey Logano 47.059 191.249 30. Martin Truex Jr. 47.633 188.945
15. Ryan Newman 47.110 191.042 31. Joe Nemechek 48.304 186.320
16. Denny Hamlin 47.122 190.994

Preseason Thunder: Day 1

Afternoon Practice Speeds
Pos.DriverTimeSpeed Pos.DriverTimeSpeed
2.Joey Logano44.469202.388 18.Jeff Burton46.945191.714
3.Brad Keselowski44.505202.224 19.Juan Montoya46.969191.616
4.A.J. Allmendinger44.506202.220 20.Matt Kenseth46.997191.502
5.Dale Earnhardt Jr.44.794200.920 21.Marcos Ambrose47.007 191.461
6.Jimmie Johnson44.795200.915 22.Ryan Newman47.010191.449
7.Denny Hamlin44.965200.156 23.Kevin Harvick47.052191.278
8.Kasey Kahne45.047199.791 24.Trevor Bayne47.061191.241
9.Mark Martin45.782196.584 25.Martin Truex Jr.47.095191.103
10.Clint Bowyer45.782196.584 26.Jamie McMurray47.102191.075
11.Ricky Stenhouse Jr.46.164194.957 27.Regan Smith47.266190.412
12.Jeff Gordon46.482193.623 28.Carl Edwards47.285190.335
13.Paul Menard46.726192.612 29.Aric Almirola47.296190.291
14.Kurt Busch46.835192.164 30.Dave Blaney47.453189.661
15.Tony Stewart46.887191.951 31.Casey Mears47.671188.794
16.Danica Patrick46.893191.926 32.Joe Nemechek 48.038187.352

"It's going to be interesting to see. I don't know what the fix is, and I know they're trying. They either have to make it so you can't do it at all, somehow, or get it back to where you can at least make laps and not wreck each other."

View photos from Preseason Thunder at Daytona below:

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