Sprint Cup series drivers have given their thumbs-up to the new surface at Daytona International Speedway, following the first test since the repaving of the track was completed.
Eighteen teams took to the track during Wednesday and Thursday in a Goodyear tire test, putting down rubber for the first time on the new dark pavement following the first resurfacing since 1978 and only the second in the track's history.
Driver's consensus was positive on the end result, the track becoming smoother, losing some of its previous bumps and roughness while also gaining a lot of grip. This year's Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray said the new pavement has made the track easier to drive and he also praised Goodyear's job with its tire selection.
"The amount of steering wheel input required now versus what we had here six months ago is maybe half," said the Earnhardt Ganassi driver. "You're not really having to turn the steering wheel because the car has so much grip.
"We joked around before getting on the track that the tires were just going to be screaming hot. We made our first 15-lap run. When I saw the tire sheet, I didn't believe the tires were so cool, maybe close to 75 degrees less than what we expected. So I don't think you're going to see tires be an issue."
Veteran Jeff Burton said he expects the new surface to turn Daytona races into more Talladega-like events, having tested in the draft during the two days of running. He also reckons that the chances of seeing more incidents will increase as due to the smoother surface drivers are less afraid of running closer to each other in the draft.
"Everybody is happy with the surface," said the Richard Childress Racing driver. "The tire combination seems to be really good. It's going to be a Talladega style race for sure versus what we've seen at Daytona. I think it's going to be an exciting Daytona 500. You're going to have to change your mindset a little bit about how to do the Daytona thing. I think it's gone really well.
"...We're, what, 196, 197 (mph), in that range? Pretty consistent. But we're doing it with a smaller restrictor plate than we had here. So it's just going to be doing the same speed, but you're doing it in a completely different way. You don't even think about having to lift unless you're trying to keep from wrecking. In the past it was quite a bit of throttle control to keep your car going around the racetrack. Same speed, but basically it's governed by the restrictor plate."
Reigning Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray also praised the slight widening of the pit lane.
“They did a really good job, not only on the racetrack, but widening pit road,” he said. “It's really nice to get that little bit of extra room on pit road. Pit road speeds are really fast when you come to [restrictor] plate tracks. Typically, we have the smallest brakes on the car that we run all year long, so pit road is also trouble. So the fact they widened that 10 or 12 feet is really nice.”
Teams also ran with the new 2011 nose specification, which sees a different shape for the splitter, getting rid of the metal braces used to support the previously flat surface at the bottom of the front bumper.
A few teams also ran with the new E15 fuel with positive results. A 15/16th's of an inch restrictor was used for the two days of running, which is the same ran at Talladega last fall, while slightly smaller than what was used at Daytona last summer.
"So far, so good. I mean, the plan has come together," said NASCAR's vp for competition, Robin Pemberton. "It's something we've all been working on for not just the paving of five months, but it's been a year of getting our thoughts together.
"We knew we had some updates to the car coming. We have fuel. We have better horsepower now because of the E15. There's a lot of things that went into it, along with the tires and the paving process and everything."
The only incident occurred on Wednesday when Roush Fenway's David Ragan and RCR's newly signed Paul Menard made contact in the tri-oval section. Neither driver was injured, but their cars were too badly damaged to continue.
Teams will return to Daytona for pre-season testing on Jan. 21-22.