New year. New faces. New sponsors. New rules.
All that and more combined to make the NASCAR Nationwide Series Preseason Thunder test a crucial success this weekend at Daytona International Speedway. Twenty-five cars turned laps on the 2.5-mile high banks Saturday and Sunday, tuning up for the season-opening DRIVE4COPD 300 (Feb. 22 at 1:15 p.m., broadcast on ESPN, Motor Racing Network Radio and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio).
Teams adjusted to new cooling systems designed to eliminate tandem drafting, and they searched for new ways to find top speed at the World Center of Racing.
“With this form of racing you're going to have to be more strategic throughout the whole race,” said Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner who’s competing for the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. “I don't think you can wait until five laps to go and hook up to somebody and go barreling to the front.”
If this test is any indication, the 22-year-old Bayne may have his hands full with a pair of 18-year-olds during Speedweeks. On Sunday morning, Dylan Kwasniewski tested a Turner Scott Chevrolet and posted the fastest speed of the weekend (190.022 mph). That came on the heels of Saturday’s afternoon session, which saw an 18-year-old Chase Elliott best his father Bill by four one-thousandths of a second to top the speed charts in JR Motorsports Chevrolets. Both Chase Elliott and Kwasniewski are products of the NASCAR Next program. Bill Elliott will likely be a future member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“It was good to see everybody get out there and get right to drafting,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition and racing development. “I'm really pleased with the test. Our conversations that we've had with the drivers have been positive and Wayne (Auton, NASCAR Nationwide Series Managing Director) is getting good feedback from the garage. It looks like a good effort on everybody's part to do all the right things out there. It looked really nice.”
Chase Elliott (189.950), James Buescher (189.921), Bill Elliott (189.885) and Brendan Gaughan (189.881) followed Kwasniewski on the speed chart in the Sunday morning session – the fastest of the weekend.
Drivers maximized their drafting opportunities on both days as they worked in packs at high speeds. They gathered key data they can use during Speedweeks, which will include a yet-to-be-divulged multi-car qualifying format for both the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. It will be announced later this month.
Teams also tested a new rear spring package and 4.5-inch spoiler, designed to give the cars more stability in the pack. Their feedback will now be reviewed to help NASCAR make tweaks heading into next month’s action.
NASCAR Preseason Thunder continues Monday and Tuesday when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series turn their first laps in re-designed Chevrolets, Fords and Toyotas. Testing both days is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. and conclude at 5 p.m.