News & Media

As heat rises, so do concerns about water temps

May 04, 2012, Viv Bernstein, Special to NASCAR.COM,

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- With warmer weather than Daytona had, expect plenty of pack racing at Talladega

Dale Earnhardt Jr. showed up at Talladega Superspeedway freshly shorn, his woolly beard removed to film a commercial but just in time for Sunday's Aaron's 499 Sprint Cup race as well.

"It's about 90 degrees out here,'' Earnhardt said during practice on Friday. "So it was probably going to come off anyways."

Aaron's 499

Practice 1 Speeds
2.Michael Waltrip198.343
3.Matt Kenseth197.986
4.Jeff Gordon197.843
5.Kevin Harvick197.725
2.Matt Kenseth196.685
3.Greg Biffle196.105
4.Denny Hamlin195.692
5.Regan Smith195.620

Earnhardt and the rest of the Sprint Cup field will have to deal with similar heat on Sunday, and that could be an issue not just for the drivers, but for the race cars as well. Engines overheating are a concern because NASCAR has mandated changes to the cooling systems to prevent tandem-style drafting, just as they did for the Daytona 500 in February.

"The X factor from Daytona to here will be temperature,'' Denny Hamlin said before practice. "The ambient temperature is 25 degrees warmer, at least, from what we raced at Daytona.

"The two-car tandem, even in practice, you won't see much of it simply because everyone's going to be very temperature limited right from the get-go."

And perhaps that's why there weren't as many concerns about heat on Friday -- there wasn't much tandem racing during incident-free practices to raise temperature levels.

"I don't think you can stay together at all,'' Kyle Busch said after practice. "We're running 230, 240 [degrees water temperature] just pack drafting and then once you get pushed from behind or you have somebody close to you, it kind of moves you forward a little bit to the car that's in front of you. You're already 245, 250. That's already border line for our engines.

"With temperatures being as hot as they are, the ambient track temp being way up from what it was in Daytona, it's just a lot harder to keep your car cool enough and not let it get heat soaked that you have an amount of time that you can push. You're just kind of limited on what you can do based off water temp."

Without tandem racing, that means pack racing will be back at Talladega just as it was at Daytona. That suits many in the garage.

"To be honest, I really enjoy the pack racing a lot better,'' Martin Truex Jr. said. "I feel like your destiny is in your own hands a little bit more. There's still a lot of risks out there with things happening, which always is at plate tracks. I just never was a fan of having to have somebody push you, having to rely on somebody all the time to stick with you and make the right moves.

"It's more fun when you just have to worry about controlling your own car and not worry what somebody else is doing."

Instead, Truex and the rest will have to worry about the continued dominance of the Fords at restrictor-plate tracks. Three Fords topped the speed charts in Happy Hour on Friday led by Aric Almirola's No. 43 at 196.725 mph. Almirola was first in the opening practice as well.

Matt Kenseth, the Daytona 500 winner, was second in Happy Hour at 196.685 with points leader Greg Biffle third at 196.105. They were followed by Hamlin's Toyota (195.692) and Regan Smith's Chevrolet (195.620). There were seven Fords in the top 15.

Among them, Kenseth and Biffle appear the drivers to beat on Sunday.

"Those two Roush cars, I think that they were the strongest cars at Daytona,'' Hamlin said, "and I don't think that'll be much different."