Slick surface and high speeds make for a dicey day at Daytona

By Jenna Fryer, AP
Thursday, July 1, 2010

Speeds hit 195 mph on slick Daytona surface

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It’s hot, slick and super speedy. And there are no potholes to be found.

NASCAR returned to Daytona International Speedway on Thursday for the first time since the season-opening Daytona 500 was nearly derailed by a pesky pothole. The damaged asphalt halted action twice during the biggest race of the year, and it took track workers more than two hours to repair the surface well enough to complete the race.

All smoothed over now — the patch is 6 feet wide and 18 feet long — it didn’t seem to bother the drivers Thursday during a pair of practice sessions.

“You can see it, but it’s really not a factor,” Greg Biffle said.

That might be because drivers are too busy dealing with the other new elements they’ll be taking into Saturday night’s race.

NASCAR mandated the largest restrictor plate yet for this race, authorizing plate openings of 1 1-32 inches that control the flow of air through the carburetor to the engine. The change was needed because of the March switch from the wing back to the more traditional spoiler, which has more drag so the bigger plates offset the difference through increased speeds.

It made for a difficult day for several drivers. David Ragan, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne all needed backup cars after the first practice, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano both damaged their cars in the second practice but were able to repair them.

Not so for Denny Hamlin, who wrecked after light contact with teammate Busch. The accident involved at least five cars, and added Hamlin, Tony Stewart, and Red Bull Racing’s latest substitute driver, Reed Sorenson, in need of backup cars.

Matt Kenseth agreed when he was asked if the “cars are a handful?”

“But I like that, love that,” Kenseth said. “You kind of knew it would be with the big plate, and we’re going pretty fast, and the pavement wore out, which is what makes Daytona great in my opinion.

“Depending on what they use for asphalt when they repave it (begins next week), this might be the last time we ever race here, in my career anyway, in these kind of conditions. It’s gonna be slick, sliding around a lot, and it’s going to be fun.”

Biffle likened the surface to “an old slip-and-slide” and wondered if NASCAR won’t switch back to a smaller plate before Saturday night’s race. Logano paced the first practice at 193.932 mph, while Robby Gordon was fastest in second practice at 195.126.

“There’s nothing easy about it, I promise you that,” Logano said. “There’s definitely a lot of guys sliding around and with this new spoiler package, the cars drove a lot different than what they have in the previous years compared to the wing. We’ve been kind of fighting to kind of get a balance with that.”

Busch took blame for the second accident that gave Joe Gibbs Racing a full three-car sweep of wrecked cars.

“This one was all my fault,” he said. “JGR isn’t doing too good today. It is really, really slick out here.”

Before his wreck in Thursday night’s final practice session, Hamlin predicted the track conditions are going to make for an interesting race.

“A wild one,” he said. “I think it will get strung out, but I think on restarts you’ll see guys pressing to try to stay in the lead pack and that’s probably where you’ll see some incidents. I think if the race goes green for long enough it will get spread way out and you might not have a whole lot of cautions.

“But, I think the intensity on restarts — the only time that you can really make up time is right on restarts so it’s going to be tough to stay out of trouble.”

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