Speeds hit 197 mph on repaved Daytona track

The two-day Goodyear tire test in advance of the 53rd annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 20 wrapped up on Thursday and the new racing surface of Daytona International Speedway continued to receive positive reviews from the drivers. Top speeds were 197 mph in the draft.

Eighteen NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers took part in the historic test, which was the first time race cars turned laps on the new asphalt of Daytona International Speedway. The entire 2.5-mile tri-oval, pit road, skid pad and apron was repaved for only the second time following the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola in July.

2010 Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch and Bobby Labonte as well as DIS President Joie Chitwood III, NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton and Goodyear Director of Racing Greg Stucker gave an update on the progress of the test during the lunch break on Thursday.

“It's much smoother, has a tremendous amount of grip, but it's still Daytona," said Burton, who wheels the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. “They didn't try to change the banking from the bottom to the top. They just kept Daytona and put pavement on it. I'm glad that's what they did.

“Daytona is a track (that) has its own history, its own heritage. It's entrenched in what our sport is all about. So keeping Daytona Daytona was 100 percent the right thing to do but it has a whole lot more grip."

And Burton says the fresh asphalt will likely produce another classic Daytona 500 finish.

“I think it's going to be a helluva race," Burton said. “We've had some great Daytona 500 finishes the last several years. The end of the race has been great. We've seen separation of cars because of the handling issues during the race. You're not going to see that this time. There's going to be a constant pack. I don't know how you could get separated."

“It is going to make for more exciting racing, more aggressive racing," said Hendrick Motorsports’ Jeff Gordon in driver interviews provided by the race track. “I don’t think we’re going to see the two-car bump-drafting [for separation from the pack] like we saw at Talladega, but I think you’re going to see a lot of three-wide racing, which here typically in the past, getting more than two-wide, you could only do it for a short period of time.

“You’ll be able to see us race here three-wide lap after lap after lap."

Said Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch: “It's an impressive surface. There's been a lot of hard work done. Everybody should be proud of what they've accomplished to resurface it, give it a new look.

“It's just a new attitude. This is what 2011 will bring to start off our Sprint Cup season — big, exciting time. I'm proud to be able to say I got a chance to race on the surface when it was redone."

Besides being impressed by the new smooth surface, drivers were also pleased by pit road, which was widened by 10 feet and is now 60 feet wide.

“They did a really good job, not only on the racetrack, but widening pit road," McMurray 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 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."

“Pit road is awesome," Labonte said. “I always said this is one of the hardest pit roads we would come through at any race because it was too narrow, never any grip with the concrete pad. And then asphalt widening, that's definitely a plus."

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