Daytona Testing 2001

Report by Brian Holly

Latitude: 29 11"N
Longitude: 81 3"W

Friday, January 12
Yesterday's picture perfect sunrise was a distant memory as clouds and occasional showers arrived with daybreak over Daytona Beach. The final day of General Motors testing would be delayed until mid-morning. But as the song says, the mid-morning watch is the best time to look. The cars took to the track and the drafting session began. Jerry Nadeau's 185 mile per hour lap in the thick of the draft turned out to be the fastest lap of the test session. The pre-season dress rehearsal went well. Next time the drivers come to Daytona, they're playing for keeps.

January 12 Test Speeds
(Most drivers tested two cars)

Jerry Nadeau (#25b) 185.755
Mike Skinner (#31) 185.387
Johnny Benson (#10) 184.087
Bobby Hamilton (#55) 184.045
Derrike Cope (#37) 183.884
Ken Schrader (#36) 182.882
Kenny Wallace (#27a) 182.463
Steve Park (#1) 182.190
Jeff Gordon (#24b) 181.561
Mike Skinner (#31a) 181.346
Steve Park (#1a) 181.236
Tony Stewart (#20a) 181.145
Bobby Labonte (#18a) 181.068
Tony Stewart (#20b) 180.992
Terry Labonte (#5) 180.970
Bobby Hamilton (#55a) 180.905
Michael Waltrip (#15a) 180.890
Ken Schrader (#36m) 180.857
Dave Marcis (#71) 180.788
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#8) 180.766
Robby Gordon (#4) 180.629
Bobby Labonte (#18b) 180.386
Norm Benning (#84) 180.357
Kenny Wallace (#27) 180.335
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#8a) 180.328
Dale Earnhardt (#3a) 180.267
Dale Earnhardt (#3b) 179.932
Robby Gordon (#4x) 179.910
Johnny Benson (#10v) 179.903
Jeff Gordon (#24a) 179.598
Michael Waltrip (#15b) 179.419
Rick Mast (#50) 179.269
Terry Labonte (#5t) 179.126
Joe Nemechek (#33) 179.094
Joe Nemechek (#33a) 178.476
Ron Hornaday (#14a) 178.465

Thursday, January 11
The view from the 8th floor balcony of the Adam's Mark Hotel in Daytona Beach is ideal. A yellow sunrise on the horizon signals daybreak over the Atlantic Ocean. Early morning air temperatures hover in the lower 40's. Not even warm enough for a run on the beach. No matter, there are other things on the agenda for today-- General Motors testing starts at Daytona International Speedway.

Day One is always interesting. It's usually the first time the drivers take to a Winston Cup track in the new year. It's also a time to renew old acquaintances and catch up on things. The banquet was just six weeks ago, but everyone has a vacation story to tell. "And the fish that got away was THIS big..."

The computers are cranking early in the garage area. The talk centers around the aero rules for the Daytona 500. NASCAR has told the teams that the "bug catcher" strips on the roof and rear spoiler that were used last October at Talladega will also be used at Daytona. Unlike last year's Daytona 500, passing will become an option. But top speed will suffer as more drag is created on the cars. Finding the right gear ratio with the restrictor plate engine is what testing is all about.

Under partly cloudy skies and a rising air temperature, the engines roared to life and 21 drivers took to the track-- though not all at the same time. The roar of the engines in the air can make you forget that it's still mid-January. Of course, a sun-splashed 70 degree day can do the same. A quick trip through the tunnel and into the sparsely populated grandstand for some pictures followed.

As far as top speeds, the cars that hooked up in a tight draft were faster than those running by themselves. A welcome sight in the garage area was Norm Benning. The frequent ARCA competitor usually tries to qualify for one or two Winston Cup races each season. On a limited budget, extensive testing is a pipe dream. But he's here-- running near Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon in an effort to get into "the big show" next month.

Speaking of Earnhardt and Gordon, the two drivers with the largest fan base in North American motorsports looked battle tested and prepared. Out of the draft, they ran as well as anyone in between multiple trips to the garage area for shock and spring changes. Testing concluded just before 5 pm under flourescent Florida skies.

The first day of testing went as expected. The teams were focused on flat speed rather than the draft. The large drafting packs which the Ford drivers used on Wednesday never really came to fruition during day one of GM testing. However, the GM teams are expected to have a drafting session during the final day of testing.

January 11 Test Speeds
(Most drivers tested two cars)

Tony Stewart (#20a) 182.065
Mike Skinner (#31a) 181.444
Steve Park (#1a) 181.269
Steve Park (#1) 181.101
Michael Waltrip (#15a) 181.032
Kenny Wallace (#27) 181.021
Jerry Nadeau (#25a) 180.429
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#8a) 180.364
Dave Marcis (#71) 180.310
Ken Schrader (#36m) 180.187
Tony Stewart (#20b) 180.151
Bobby Labonte (#18b) 180.072
Dale Earnhardt (#3a) 179.903
Jeff Gordon (#24b) 179.881
Johnny Benson (#10v) 179.759
Bobby Labonte (#18a) 179.723
Jeff Gordon (#24a) 179.691
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#8) 179.598
Mike Skinner (#31) 179.315
Ken Schrader (#36) 179.304
Terry Labonte (#5) 179.144
Bobby Hamilton (#55) 178.994
Dale Earnhardt (#3b) 178.813
Johnny Benson (#10) 178.649
Bobby Hamilton (#55a) 178.994
Joe Nemechek (#33) 178.465
Robby Gordon (#4) 178.356
Joe Nemechek (#33a) 178.465
Michael Waltrip (#15b) 178.070
Terry Labonte (#5t) 177.859
Rick Mast (#50) 177.711
Jerry Nadeau (#25b) 177.054
Ron Hornaday (#14a) 176.988
Derrike Cope (#37) 176.630
Kenny Wallace (#27a) 176.550
Ron Hornaday (#14b) 176.091
Norm Benning (#84) 173.414
(Test speeds recorded by Daytona International Speedway)

Jeff Gordon's comments about the test session:
"We're going to see a big difference with restrictor plates and the type of aero package that we have here. When you're out running by yourself, there's a lot of drag, so it's all about trying to get that spoiler out of the air and trying to get as much power as you can. Once we get into the race, and you start drafting behind other cars, I don't think anybody's going to have a distinct advantage. But we would like to get qualified as far forward as we can. I don't think it matters where you're going to start. You're going to be as fast as just about anybody else. And you know, Daytona is different than Talladega. It might come down more to handling on the longer runs than it does speed, so that's going to make it interesting. I think if we were running a little bit faster, we'd do a little drafting today. But we need more speed before we start doing any drafting. I'm not sure if we're slower than the Fords were. I'd like to know who ran the fastest and what they ran without drafting. But it looks to me like Steve Park is really fast right now. He has something we're looking for because we're all here with him at the same time and it's another Chevrolet that's six or seven-tenths faster than we are. We just know we've got to get into the forth-nine's (49's) and hopefully in the mid-49's at least. Neither one of our cars is brand new. Our newest car, the one we're going to take to the wind tunnel, the one we've been working on, we hope is better than these two. Basically these cars are old chassis with kind of re-configured bodies on them. Just trying to update 'em. On the other hand, sometimes our new stuff is not as good as our old stuff."

The Daytona Scene

View from the stands
View from the ocean
Time on the water- an elixir for the spirit.

Sunrise over Daytona Beach. Even with a chill in the air, the view is picture perfect.
"Strollin' down the avenue that's known as A1A"

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