ThorSport excels in second-day testing at Daytona
January 14, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
Crafton, Sauter and Chastain ran as the top three during testing
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Overnight rain and the threat of more of it Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway turned the final day of NASCAR Preseason Thunder into what amounted to a private test for one of the Camping World Truck Series' elite teams.
With several teams packing up and heading back to their base camps during the soggy, overcast morning, only five trucks turned laps in the second day of preseason testing at Daytona. Shortly after lunch with the skies partially clearing, only three remained -- the trio of ThorSport Racing Toyotas driven by defending series champion Matt Crafton, defending Daytona race winner Johnny Sauter and a part-time entry driven by Ross Chastain.
In what could be a case of the strong getting stronger, Crafton said the team was able to improve its ability to close gaps -- or "suck up" -- to lead trucks. Sauter's victories in both of the series' events on superspeedways last season spoke to the team's dominant set-ups on the larger tracks, but Crafton said there was an element of starting over with the new, brand-identifiable truck bodies.
"The sad thing is we had our stuff so good at the end of last year ... where we could get up there and push and bump and do whatever we wanted to," Crafton said. "Right now, we're struggling with that, so it was a very, very beneficial test this afternoon because we got to work on that, just a ton of different things tomake our stuff suck up. I think we've got a direction we need to head, and we feel we need to head with it, but we don't have a definite answer yet."
The leaderboard speeds accurately reflected the nature of Tuesday's test with the three ThorSport trucks woven closely together. Sauter (183.921 mph), Crafton (183.895) and Chastain (183.880) rarely took to the 2.5-mile track individually, working instead on finding aerodynamic nuances while in three-truck packs. Ryan Ellis and Jennifer Jo Cobb were the only other drivers to participate Tuesday, and each completed just under 10laps. By contrast, each ThorSport driver completed more than 60 laps.
Chad Little, managing director of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, said he was pleased with the positive feedback he had received from teams by the end of the two-day session, a coming-out party of sorts for the division's new-look vehicles.
"Listening to the drivers and listening to what they're finding out, I think it paid off," Little said. "... I think we've got a pretty good package. We'll finalize gear ratio, we'll finalize a few other rules, but for the most part, I think we're fairly happy with everything speed-wise, temperature-wise with the RPMs, so I think we're in pretty good shape."
Drivers got the closest comparison to what race conditions might resemble late in the day Monday, when packs of 10-15 trucks formed. Crafton said the feel of the new truck models in traffic hinted at a return to the type of racing from his rookie season, 13 years ago.
"They drove very good," Crafton said. "I think it's going to be back to the truck series racing back in 2001, '02, '03, '04, when you had the slingshot passes coming to the start-finish line. I think we're going to be back to that now."