Tag:2012 Preseason Thunder
Posted on: January 16, 2012 12:14 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2012 12:23 pm

NASCAR closer to Daytona rules package

By Pete Pistone

  A Group Of Cars
(Whether this year's Daytona 500 features the two car tandem draft or the old school pack racing remains to be seen)

The January science experiment is over and now the NASCAR professors need to sift through the data. 

Last week’s three day Preseason Thunder test session at Daytona gave NASCAR officials a lot to digest before coming back to officially start the season next month at Speedweeks. 

“Once we leave here, obviously there will be a lot of energy spent on looking through all of the data that we've collected this week, looking through lap times and speeds and watching film and footage like everybody else does,” said Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby

“You know, I would like to have the final rules package out as quickly as we can just to make sure the teams have enough time to react to everything I guess is the right way to put that.  And we'll do our due diligence and get it out as fast as we can.” 

A variety of rules and adjustments were used during the three-day session in hopes of coming up with the best competitive package possible for the biggest race of the season – the Daytona 500. 

“Our goal and our responsibility is to try to make decisions so that the racing is as good as everybody expects it to be or better during the Daytona 500,” said NASCAR president Mike Helton at last week’s test.

“That's the one variable that all the teams, once they get through doing everything they think they can accomplish and get done, all of them know let's wait and see what NASCAR does. We have a reputation for [changing things], but it's all in the best interest of having the best racing on the race track that we can deliver.” 

NASCAR has made it no secret part of the process during the test was to find a way to if not eliminate at least limit the two-car tandem draft. There were several times when the sanctioning body encouraged drivers to spend time in the more traditional pack that had been the restrictor plate track norm before the tandem style became so predominant.

Most drivers understand the reason for NASCAR trying all it can to bust up the tandems. 

“We’re all about making a better show for the fans, and I feel like they like to see pack racing,” said Denny Hamlin. “They don’t like to see the cars strung out as much as it was with the tandem, and I think speeding these race cars up is going to do that.” 

While most of the pack sessions during the test went off relatively well – there were a few minor incidents involving the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Juan Pablo Montoya – it remains to be seen whether the large groups will return under actual racing conditions. 

“Yeah, that's a hard question because you don't know what pleases all folks, and everybody has got a difference of opinion,” said NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton no doubt referring to both drivers and fans.  “So I think there will be a solid mix of all kinds of things, and you never know.  In today's world something else might pop up that becomes the advantage for a driver, a team, a group.  We'll see.   
“But so far, we like what we've seen.  It's been a good mix of what they can do in a larger pack and how close they can get for a limited time to push.” 

Of all the changes used at the test including a smaller spoiler, softer springs and different sizes of restrictor plates, modifications to engine cooling systems as an effort to limit the push Pemberton refers to is the most controversial. 

Smaller radiators and overflow tanks helped engine temperatures soar after only a handful of laps when the second car was tucked behind the rear bumper of the tandem leader. 

The magic number at the test appeared to be in the seven to eight lap range before drivers had to bring some fresh air into the engine compartment. 

“I think that if we get it figured out how to maintain those temps, then you will, you'll see it all day long,” said Jeff Gordon. “But it looks like it's more challenging, more difficult, and especially if we're in a pack trying to do it. 

"I'm not saying it's going to be eliminated, but I don't think it's going to be what we've seen in the past. I think you're going to see more pack racing, more cars driving in packs, and the 500 is a long race. Survival is important, and you've got to figure out what is going to get you there to the end so that you can hook up with somebody and win the race.”

But even with potential limitations, as Gordon points out don’t expect drivers to magically stop using the tandem draft come Speedweeks. Most all believe that despite the changes, the style will remain in the arsenal to be used as an advantage when possible.

What everyone does agree on is for NASCAR to not get involved in outlawing the tandem or having to police its use during a race.

"Anytime you tell us not to do something then when we do it, it's up for a judgment call after that," said Hamlin. "That's why they don't want to get into making rules about it.

"They want to fix it by fixing the rules to where it's not as beneficial as it was before. They have closed the gap - no doubt about it."

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Posted on: January 14, 2012 6:34 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2012 12:41 pm

Preseason Thunder comes to a close

By Pete Pistone

Jeff Gordon found his way to the top of the speed charts again on Saturday afternoon as Preseason Thunder testing wound up at Daytona International Speedway.

Gordon's top lap of 200.562 mph was the best of the afternoon session, the sixth and final one of the three day gathering in Daytona.

A.J. Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.

NASCAR was pleased with the January test as the sanctioning body puts together a rules package for teams to race with when Speedweeks in February kicks off the season at Daytona.

NASCAR's vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said he appreciated the input and work from the teams and is confident a competitive package will be in place in time for the Daytona 500.

"We have all worked hard to find what we feel works and doesn't work," said Pemberton. "I'm very happy, we all are, with where we've landed after the time spent down here and I believe when we come backl for Speedweeks we'll have a competitive landscape for everyone."


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Posted on: January 14, 2012 4:48 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2012 4:58 pm

Denny Hamlin and Darian Grubb ready to go

By Pete Pistone

  Denny Hamlin, Driver Of The #11 FedEx Express Toyota, Speaks
(Hamlin will be in the spotlight this year with a new crew chief trying to help rebound from 2011's disappointment)

Denny Hamlin
has his sights set on rebounding from last year's disappointing season and is ready to move ahead with new crew chief Darian Grubb.

After Joe Gibbs Racing decided to relieve former crew chief Mike Ford of his duties, Grubb was brought in as his replacement fresh off his championship season with Tony Stewart.

Although it's early in the process, Hamlin says things are progressing but that the relationship will take time to devleop.

"It's hard to say right now," Hamlin said as the duo continued their working together during this week Preseason Thunder test at Daytona.  "Really, you just go through checklist stuff when you get to a test like this.  Until we get somewhere -- I think we're going to have a tire test at Texas here in a few weeks -- that's really going to be the moment where I see how he does things and how he relates to the way I react to how the car is doing." 

As for personalities, Hamlin sees several similarities between Ford and Grubb.

"Very laid back," he said.  "Very similar to Mike in that sense.  Both of them are very laid back at the race track and I think they both have very similar demeanors." Hamlin won a race last season and did make the Chase but came nowhere close to repeating his 2010 campaign when he won eight times and nearly took home the Sprint Cup Series championship.

Despite the many disappointments and frustrations from a year ago, Hamlin says there are lessons learned he believes will help going forward.

"It was a trying year for everyone with the team and coming back I feel like we're stronger than what we've ever been," Hamlin said. "We've made a lot of changes within our organization.  Not just the crew chief, but a lot of people.  We have a new spotter this year.  All three teams have new spotters.

"There's a lot of internal changes that's gone on at JGR and I feel like we've got good personnel.  The way that we're doing things within our shop I feel like is heading in the right direction.  I think because of that you're going to see a lot more success from everyone at Gibbs." 

Hamlin hopes the installment of Grubb as crew chief will help the No. 11 FedEx Toyota team rach that success.

One of Hamlin's early observations of Grubb's style is the way he's bonding with the race team and trying to build chemistry.

"He's very in tune with the race team," Hamlin said.  "What I've noticed so far is he gets the heartbeat of the guys themselves.  He takes them to dinner just about every night, and understands this is a team sport.  It's not about him and all of the decisions he makes of making that car go well.  It's everyone that has a hand or a wrench on that race car.  He's really in tune with the race team."

Grubb hopes to build a solid relationship with the team as well as the driver and that means getting to know Hamlin outside of their work partnership.
"I definitely want to get to know him outside of the race track and to have that friendship because you have to have that I think to have the open communication with what you want to do," Grubb said.  "You have to be able to be open in good times and bad to make sure you're doing everything the right way.  So, I'm hoping to have some of those relationships on the outside of the race track, not just a professional relationship." 

Hamlin says that has already begun.

"Yeah, it took about a lunch session before I realized how very similar that we are in the backgrounds that we have," Hamlin said. "Obviously him coming from Virginia Tech, that makes it easy to root for the same football teams on Saturday.  It's just -- he's very family and goal oriented in the sense that he's very in tune with his family and he considers his race team his family.  Even though he's a guy that's a little bit quieter than a lot of crew chiefs, he's got a big heart and he's got the brains of about five of me." 

There's still more than amonth to go before the season officially begins when NASCAR returns to Daytona for Speedweeks. During that time they'll be more testing and preparation before the grind of the schedule kicks in.

Hamlin is confident things are headed in the right direction and anxious to get started really putting last year in the rear view mirror with a successful beginning to 2012.

"There's no reason why we shouldn't be successful right off the bat," Hamlin said.  "I think it's typical from me personally to start off slow - - when I say slow, five or six races into the season -- but I think that's going to be a little bit shorter this year.  I think that there's some things that we're going to try to implement with our cars that's going to be down the line and things like that.

"This type of racing is all about timing and when you perform at the right time and we need to perform our best in September.

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Posted on: January 14, 2012 2:34 pm

Opening Saturday session led by Jeff Gordon

By Pete Pistone

Jeff Gordon continued his fast Preseason Thunder practice at Daytona International Speedway leading Saturday's first session.

Gordon, who topped Thursday's opening round, turned a lap of 201.545 mph.

Teams used the smaller restrictor plate that started the three-day test in favor of the larger plate NASCAR introduced during Friday's two sessions.

Mostly single car runs and a few two-car tandems were the order of the session with more pack drafting expected Saturday afternoon, which will be the last on track time at Daytona before Speedweeks rolls around in February.


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Posted on: January 13, 2012 6:07 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2012 6:08 pm

Friday Daytona media session highlights

By Pete Pistone

Several drivers and NASCAR officials spent time answering reporters' questions during Friday's second day of NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona Internaitonal Speedway. Here are some of the highlights from day two of the test:


"I had a question earlier today: 'Was this something you demanded of Kenny Francis be your crew chief?' It really wasn't," Kahne said. "When I was talking to Mr. Hendrick – when we were getting the deal done – I told him, 'Man, Kenny is really good. He should be part of this place. It would be great if he was my crew chief.'

"And they're like, 'Yeah, we're going to look at it. We're going to figure it out.' And from there it was all them wanting Kenny Francis."


“He’s been texting and emailing so there still is that communication taking place. We’ve got a very competent race team and everybody is following the test plan and we’re going through the motions. Truthfully, a lot of work for this test was done at the shop, getting prepared and now we’re just following the test plan.”

“It’s worked out well for Chad to take some time for himself. I’m really happy that he has decided to do this. As we all know, he doesn’t give himself much personal time. I’ve been on a similar trip to the one he’s on now and know how special it was to Chani and I. I can’t wait to hear stories when he gets back, what he goes through.”


“I've had a great off‑season. Had the time of my life with Hendrick Motorsports and made friends for life there. But this is a new challenge from an organization standpoint, a lot of new faces, and then a lot of guys I've worked with before. I couldn't believe it when I walked through the shop the first time. You can't believe how many people I've worked with before that are at MWR now."

“So it's just exactly where I want to be in life right now. I'm really excited, thrilled to have a company like Aaron's behind us, huge supporter of NASCAR racing, and I think it's going to be fun, the things that we're going to do, Michael and I are going to do. I'm expecting to do a lot of smiling this year.”


"I said, 'Where's your beer cooler around here?' We went and started chit-chatting for the rest of the day about fun stories. That's what this is going to be about for me in 2012." 


"The proof in the pudding, the outcome, will be the Daytona 500. We have not seen anything that we dislike, but we know there’s other things that we’d like to see more of. The progress of the weekend, we’re in the middle of it right now. The progress of the weekend is going in the right direction.”

“Our goal and our responsibility is to try to make decisions so that the racing is as good as everybody expects it to be or better during the Daytona 500. That's the one variable that all the teams, once they get through doing everything they think they can accomplish and get done [here], all of them know [to] let's wait and see what NASCAR does. We have a reputation for [changing things], but it's all in the best interest of having the best racing on the race track that we can deliver.”


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Posted on: January 13, 2012 5:21 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2012 5:53 pm

Kurt Busch tops 206 mph in Friday session

By Pete Pistone

The speeds keep climbing at Daytona during Preseason Thunder testing and Kurt Busch recorded the fastest lap of the week during Friday afternoon's session.

Busch hooked up with Regan Smith in a two car draft to record a lap of 206.058 mph. The new Phoenix Racing driver was also fast in Friday's morning session as he makes himself at home with the upstart organization.

NASCAR encouraged drivers to run in larger packs during the session after a morning spent in single file and some tandem drafting runs. Several drivers did participate in the larger groups which were the former norm at restrictor plate tracks before the tandem drafting phenomenon began two years ago.

NASCAR announced a change in the restrictor plate for Saturday's session that will see the size return to 29/32, the same as what teams started with during the test on Thursday. There will also be a moficiation to the grille to make the opening more horizontal for the final day of the test.


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Posted on: January 13, 2012 4:51 pm

Jimmie Johnson motivated for 2012 season

By Pete Pistone

Jimmie Johnson's streak of consecutive Sprint Cup Series championships came to an end last season at five. But the Hendrick Motorsports driver is all too ready to begin a new string in 2012.

Johnson said he's ready to put the disappointment of last season's title run in the rear view mirror and use it as a motivation factor for the coming year.

"Yeah, I mean, I've spent a lot of time through the off season thinking about the way I'm involved with the race team, the responsibilities I have, the just the way I've gone about work for the last five years, and it's hard to argue with the last five years and what had happened," Johnson said during Friday's break at Daytona testing.  Last year was the sixth year and we didn't get the results that we wanted.  But I really felt like we were competitive in a lot of areas.  Chad and I made some mistakes in the Chase and took ourselves out of it."

Johnson has used the days away from the track since the season ended to re-energize himself and believes it has been benficial. 

"It's been a very good off season for me to internalize some things and to really evaluate what goes on from my standpoint and my involvement with the team and how good of a teammate and team member I can be for the 48 car, and I'm making changes," he said.  "I feel like even though I tried to over the five year run not stall out and tried to continue to evolve and challenge myself and recreate myself.  It's hard to do it.  You have a roadmap that's working and it's hard to get too far from it.  This winter has been really good for me to really dive down and understand the areas where I feel like I can do a better job and be a better member of the 48 team.

"So I know I'm stronger and better today than I was leaving Homestead, so I'm looking forward to 2012."

Johnson can't pinpoint one particular thing that will get him going once the season starts to help his confidence level or generate momentum.

He continues to have a passion for his job and says that's all the motivation he needs.

"But really the thing that motivates me is the fire hasn't gone out in me to compete, and as long as that fire is burning, who I am as a person, I'm going to give 100 percent," Johnson said. "I know when I do a good job, what my responsibilities are.  That's the thing that keeps motivating me and that's what I'm reflecting on from last year is at times we did a good job, and when we put up 100 percent we got the results that we wanted.

"But some other time things just didn't work out as they should and weren't handled correctly from my side and the way I went about things.  So that's my motivation for this coming season is to not make those mistakes and to do the best job that I can and be the best member of this 48 team that I can be."

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Posted on: January 13, 2012 3:11 pm

Winning not everything for Kurt Busch

By Pete Pistone

Kurt Busch is feeling very good about his new Sprint Cup Series home.

The former series champion who parted ways with Penske Racing after last season and joined Phoenix Racing for the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season says he's already right at home with the upstart team.

That level of comfort as well as the relationship with team owner James Finch and the rest of the team are more imprtant to Busch than winning on a regular basis.

“I can have fun without winning,” Busch said. “I can have fun running 20th or just scraping to get back on the lead lap. But it’s more the camaraderie with these guys. For me to take a step back and look at it all, that’s what I’ve been needing to do for a while.” 

Despite some significant differences between Phoenix and the giant organization at Penske including having to wait for his seat to be fitted only days away from the unofficial start to the season this week at Daytona, Busch is taking the change in stride.

“When you have 400 employees, you can’t be in that position,” Busch said Friday at Daytona Preseason Thunder testing. “When you have 18, it’s an intimate group. It’s fun. It’s not frustrating at all. This is the fun part. We’ve all got to roll our sleeves up and get dirty.”

Busch has made several changes to his lifestyle as he tries to harness the emotions that got the better of him last season and work on the next phase of his career. He's moved closer to the team's headquarters and spends as much time at the shop as possible, all part of a process that Busch believes will pay dividends all around.

[Change] doesn’t happen overnight,” Busch said. “But I’ve put myself in this position with James Finch and this group of genuine, hard workers, this underrated atmosphere of what expectations are really out there.

“It’s this feel of let’s work at this the best we can, we are all smiling and having a good time while doing it. I’ve positioned myself for 2012 to be that opportunity to find happiness and to create the platform I need to be comfortable in.”

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