Speeds stay up during first practice at intermediate track
“Man, they seem fast,” the Michael Waltrip Racing driver said. “The cars really, really rolled through the center of the corner extremely fast …. The hardest thing is, we’ve been to Phoenix, and we’ve been to Daytona, and then you come here, and it’s so much faster. Initially, your thought is, ‘Holy cow, these things are fast.’ And then you come in here, and they’re not record speeds yet.”
Key word -- yet. On a day when clouds hovered over the 1.5-mile tri-oval, speeds gradually increased over the course of the test session to the point where the track record certainly appears vulnerable. Greg Biffle posted Thursday’s best speed with an afternoon lap of 189.427 mph, just shy of Kasey Kahne’s record mark of 190.456 mph set in qualifying prior to the event in 2011.
Las Vegas marks the first race for the redesigned, more brand-identifiable Sprint Cup car on an intermediate track similar to those that comprise the bulk of the series schedule, and NASCAR opened the venue a day early to allow teams to fine-tune. Thanks to its lighter weight and increased rear mechanical grip, the Generation-6 car has proven lightning fast in testing, and a threat to break track records almost every week.
That hasn’t happened -- that word again -- yet. But Danica Patrick’s pole speed of 196.434 mph for the Daytona 500 was the fastest in 23 years and the fourth-fastest of the restrictor-plate era at that venue, and Mark Martin’s pole speed of 138.074 mph last week at Phoenix International Raceway was seven-tenths off Kyle Busch’s track record. On a cold test day at Charlotte Motor Speedway in December, Kahne posted a speed that unofficially was faster than that track’s record, and drivers at a February tire test at Darlington Raceway were turning laps off the truck as quick as qualifying the season before.
So a first track record for the Generation-6 car seems only a matter of time. “With the new rules for qualifying to where we don’t have to qualify full of fuel, I think you will see track records broken at most race tracks we go to,” said Aric Almirola of Richard Petty Motorsports.
Thursday’s speeds gradually picked up, with Biffle eclipsing the best lap of the morning session, 187.396 mph by Matt Kenseth. Temperatures for qualifying on Friday are expected to be in the 50s, though there is also a chance of rain.
“They’re getting faster and faster,” Bowyer said of the speeds at Las Vegas. “It’s pretty cool outside, and it keeps getting cooler and cooler, so who knows. If it doesn’t rain, I think with the cloud cover and stuff, you might see a new track record.”
Friday’s test -- in which teams were allowed to use data acquisition, unlike a standard practice -- was an opportunity for teams to “push the limits of their equipment,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president for competition. For the Gen-6, it was another step in the process of acclimating the vehicle on all kinds of layouts. And Pemberton cautioned about drawing conclusions about the vehicle’s performance at all intermediate tracks based a single event weekend.
“We're so early into it, you're making a mistake if you comment on the worst or the greatest racing ever,” he said. “The first part of the season we run on so many different race tracks, and we're so busy, the teams are so busy over the wintertime building all these cars, so when they get to that Easter break, they'll get a chance to settle in and to look at the information they have at hand, then they'll start to make those improvements on the car. That's just the way our schedule goes. But positive or negative, you cannot read too much into any of this stuff. This is a long‑term deal here, years and years and years for this car. You may have the best race, but the teams will just continue to make it better.”
Bowyer agreed. “Anytime you make something, completely start over from scratch ... it’s going to take time,” he said. “It’s a work in progress. … the best days with this car are yet to come.”
In the meantime, there’s little question about the vehicle’s speed. Bowyer said the sensation of speed at Las Vegas was greater than even at Daytona -- Friday, he could feel the G-forces pressing him to one side as his No. 15 car traversed the corners. What did he top out at? “Wide open,” Bowyer said. No wonder the track record seems in danger of falling if the conditions remain the same.
“It’s an opportunity, yeah,” Jeff Burton said. “… It will most likely be cloudy. I think typically, the race engines are better than a test engine. Everybody has a little bit less (power in testing). So I think it’s a fair shot the track record will fall.”
And what might the new track record be?
“I’m thinking somewhere in the 300s,” Bowyer deadpanned. “Probably not.”
Second session results
First session results
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