Teams test out new truck bodies at Daytona
January 13, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
MORE: Preseason Thunder testing speeds
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A new year, a new look -- with a new rear step bumper, for good measure.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series put a fresh face on Preseason Thunder testing Monday, debuting the next generation of race truck body at Daytona International Speedway. The change brought the truck tour up to speed with the other two NASCAR national series -- the sixth-generation race car for the premier Sprint Cup division debuted last season; the current NASCAR Nationwide Series models went into full-time service in 2011.
Though the teams started slowly, waiting a full 30 minutes before hitting the track, the comfort level -- and speeds -- rose through the day. Drivers first got their feet wet with single-truck runs before moving toward small packs.
"They just drive so, so good when you're by yourself," said Matt Crafton, the defending series champion, after sorting out his No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota in the morning session. "You're just out there wide-open and driving realistically just one hand. I think the biggest thing is when we get them in packs to see how different they're going to handle. It'll be nice to see how many people will actually get in a fair pack."
By late afternoon, the aerodynamic draft intensified with tightly woven, two-wide formations that hinted at what sort of racing would emerge when the season opens Feb. 21 on the 2.5-mile track. It was a major step for teams, NASCAR officials and the three automakers to see the next edition of Chevrolet Silverados, Ford F-150s and Toyota Tundras mixing it up.
"Comments are positive so far. I think the drivers don't feel a lot of difference, if any, between the two models, and they shouldn't until we get to further in the week and some other tracks," said Chad Little, managing director for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. "Good comments, a lot of single car runs, a little drafting. ... So we're concentrating on some of the new items with the new body and making sure that they're all in line and consistent with where we need to be for speed and time and cooling, and so far I think we're on track."
The blockier front end of the new truck bodies more closely resembles the three manufacturers' street counterparts. In a change in line with the Sprint Cup's Gen-6 push toward brand identity, each nose has a distinct look and the rear deck features contours unique to each make.
Additionally, the rear bumpers come complete with a cut-in section for a step, much like the street-legal trucks the racers are based on. Little said he didn't foresee the feature having an impact on the racing, either from an aerodynamic standpoint or in hindering the practice of bump-drafting so prevalent at Daytona and Talladega, NASCAR's largest ovals.
Second-year driver Jeb Burton, who rocketed to the top of the leaderboard with a late-day lap at 191.144 mph in a large pack, said he felt the new body panels would mesh well once drivers began racing nose to tail.
"Last year our noses were ‑‑ we had that shelf lower, and you could really get underneath somebody easier, and it would be easier to turn them," Burton said. "So I feel like the new noses are going to help with the bumpers lining up better because you don't have that shelf to get underneath somebody."
The test session, originally scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET with a one-hour break for lunch, was extended by 45 minutes to allow teams more track time. Tuesday's weather forecast calls for a strong chance of early showers.
Teams made the most of the extra 45 minutes, drafting up until the closing bell with teammates Kyle Busch and Darrell Wallace Jr. experimenting with side-drafting as part of a five-truck convoy as dusk fell. Busch debriefed with Little after the session, saying that the trucks felt racy in the bigger packs. For Wallace, the chance to learn from his mentor and team owner was invaluable.
"We worked with Crafton a lot and then Kyle would jump out there with us," Wallace said. "We'd all hook up and try different things and we found out we can suck up really good. We can lay back 15, 20 car-lengths and make a huge run at the pack ahead. ... We definitely learned a lot on this new body style."