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Generation-6 car passes Thunder test

January 10, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Toyotas shine, details dominate first day at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The draft was faster, but the details dominated the day Thursday at Daytona International Speedway as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams opened Preseason Thunder, a three-day test session on the 2.5-mile track.

It was the first full-blown official test for the Generation-6 car, a piece that provides more manufacturer identity and one that officials hope will improve on-track competition.

A late-afternoon run featuring Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, along with fellow Toyota driver Mark Martin (Michael Waltrip Racing), provided the only semblance of pack racing. The 10-minute session left the four atop the scoring pylon, led by Hamlin’s 195.712 mph effort. Kenseth, Busch and Martin also topped the 195 mark, the only other drivers to do so.

“I thought the cars drove really good,” Hamlin said. "It almost felt like a video game in arcade mode, very easy to drive. It’s definitely very hard to suck up to the front car … but with more cars (on the track) that will get better.”

Hamlin won’t be around to see if that’s the case. His team packed up and departed after Friday’s session to allow the driver to return home and be with his girlfriend, Jordan Fish, who is expecting the couple’s first child.

“I didn’t want to leave her home alone at any point in the night,” said Hamlin, adding that crew chief Darian Grubb “already had a test plan that was going to be done in a day.”

The focus Thursday was on the more mundane aspects of testing for most of the day. With 34 entries on hand making solo runs, teams sorted through pages filled with setup changes and alterations in an attempt to verify what performed as expected, as well as what did not.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, called the opening day’s activities “relatively uneventful.”

“I think we anticipated the speeds would be as good as they were,” he said. “(They were) probably a little quicker than what we were the first practice down here last year (for the test).”

“It was uneventful because we weren’t running around pulling our hair out all day,” added John Darby, Sprint Cup Series director. “When you look at the enormity of the project … basically putting three brand-new models of race cars out on a race track, coming down to the first official test of the new season and (to) put speeds up that are within a tenth of a second of each other, it’s an incredible, incredible effort.”

Jeff Burton (Richard Childress Racing) completed the top five in the second session, with Paul Menard (RCR), Danica Patrick (Stewart-Haas Racing), Marcos Ambrose (Richard Petty Motorsports), Clint Bowyer (Michael Waltrip Racing) and Aric Almirola (RPM) rounding out the top 10.

Kenseth, who made the move from Roush Fenway Racing to JGR during the offseason, said the late draft effort didn’t provide a wealth of information.

“It seemed like you could get big runs on people, so I would think that it would be easier to pass,” the 2003 Cup champion said. “Hopefully we can get a lot more cars out there (and) get a feel for where we’re at.”

Most felt it was too early to read too much into speeds based on the first day’s results.

“You never know (where you stand) until we come back for the (Daytona) 500 and everybody makes their first laps,” team owner Richard Childress said. “Right now I feel pretty good. We’re not searching for half-a-second. We’re right there.”

Defending series champion Brad Keselowski (Penske Racing) ended the day 31st on the speed chart.