Austin Dillon sets pace at Preseason Thunder
January 10, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams finally got the weather break they sought, and managed to get in a solid eight hours of on-track work Friday at Daytona International Speedway.
The annual January test, dubbed Preseason Thunder, provides teams track time to begin preparations for next month’s season-opening Daytona 500, scheduled for Feb. 23.
While single-car runs by the 40 teams participating dominated Friday’s activity, a handful of drivers did take part in drafting late in the session.
"I think everybody knows or understands with a year under our belt with the Gen‑6 car it's pretty straightforward," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. "(We) had a small spoiler change, and basically … it's a comfortable zone for the teams.
"Really this test is all about the teams and those guys working on their setups and their engine packages and things of that nature."
Teams are using a four-and-a-half inch tall spoiler, an increase of one-half inch.
Sunoco Rookie of the year contender Austin Dillon, making his debut in the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, set the pace in the single-car runs with a top lap speed of 195.109 mph. Dillon led a three-car sweep of RCR cars, as Brian Scott, slated to make a one-race start in the No. 33 Chevrolet, was second at 194.582 mph and Matt Crafton (subbing for Paul Menard in the No. 27 Chevrolet), was third (194.342 mph).
Drafting provided a different look, but not a different leader as the single-car speeds of the Childress drivers remained on top of the board.
Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports), and rookie Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates) logged laps at just under 194 mph in a five-car draft prior to the close of the session.
"It’s always good to test our equipment and see where we line up," Dillon said. "To come out of the winter with some strong heat there. Definitely the cars are fast, the 33 (of Scott) and the 3, and I think our other two teammates are good too.
"So we can take everything that we learned from all four teams, have a shot at the pole and fast cars to run in the race."
Dillon said his group did not draft to get a better idea of "where we were speed-wise."
"When you come back, you’re going to have plenty of time to draft … and last year when we drafted in the test, there was a big wreck."
Although the scheduled two days of testing was eventually crammed into a single day, crew chief Chad Knaus said he was pleased with what his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team was able to accomplish.
His driver, Jimmie Johnson, is the defending series champion as well as defending Daytona 500 champ.
"I did everything I needed to do," Knaus said. "I don’t think we’re as good as some of the other cars, but our car is solid. I think when we come back we’re going to be OK. I’m alright with it."
Knaus said the car used in the test was run last year at the three restrictor-plate races following the Daytona victory.
"It’s a good car, a proven commodity," he said. "I think it showed it again tonight. It’s a solid race car.
"I just don’t know for sure what car is going to come back for the Daytona 500. Just have to wait and see."
The test was originally scheduled to begin Thursday but there was no on-track activity other than track dryers as rain showers washed out the first day’s program. Mother Nature threatened to do the same Friday, but skies eventually cleared and cars hit the 2.5-mile superspeedway at 12:45 p.m.
Because of the tardy start, officials extended Friday’s test until 9 p.m.