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Drivers test out Daytona's new surface

NASCAR drivers have been back in action ahead of the 2011 Sprint Cup season with a three-day testing event at the newly-resurfaced Daytona International Speedway.
Daytona's 2.5 mile track was repaved for the first time since 1978 - and for only the second time in the entire 48-year history of the circuit - after problems at last year's Daytona 500 pushed up the resurfacing schedule by a year. The three day testing event has been the first opportunity for the drivers to get accustomed to the new feel of the resurfaced Daytona International Speedway with the old bumps, dips and potholes consigned to distant memory, opening up the possibility of more bump-drafting.

The timesheets on the first day on Thursday were topped by the Toyotas of Michael Waltrip Racing driven by David Reuitmann and Martin Truex Jr. running together to set a top speed of 195.780mph, a lap time of 45.970s set during the afternoon session. Afterwards, Truex gave the circuit two thumbs-up: "It's going to be wild. It's going to be fun. I love racing here. Here and Talladega are some of the [most fun] races for us as drivers."

Brian Vickers was third-fastest on his return to NASCAR duty after taking most of 2010 off for medical reasons. His fastest time was set testing a two-car breakaway with his new Red Bull team mate Kasey Kahne, but most of the teams opted for single car runs which set slower times in the 185mph range.

The running on Friday was delayed until after midday because of rain overnight and during the morning. Denny Hamlin set the fastest time working with his team mates Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, the fastest lap of 45.716s (196.868mph) beating Thursday's times and managing to just stay ahead of Tony Stewart.

Many teams opted to pack up and head home after Friday, including reigning champion Jimmie Johnson who finished Friday eighth fastest on the timesheets. That left the Saturday session to be topped by Brad Keselowski who pushed the fastest time down to 45.316s (198.605mph) ahead of his Penske team-mate Kurt Busch. Keselowski will inherit Busch's familiar blue deuce livery in 2011, with Kurt now in new sponsor Shell Pennzoil yellow.

"It's a completely new breed of racing," said Keselowski about the new Daytona surface, comparing it to a baton relay. "If you have the two fastest runners in the world and you put them in a baton relay and they can't exchange, an average Joe that can will beat them."

Along with a new-look Daytona as the first race of the 2011 season, NASCAR will see other changes including a new look to the Sprint Cup cars - a redesigned front splitter doing away with the splitter races and making the cars look a lot better as a result. "It will be less utilitarian-looking," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said last year. "It'll have a little more style in it, and I think people will like that."

The cars will also be running on the new Sunoco Green ethanol-blended E15 fuel in 2011, switching from unleaded race fuel in previous seasons. The change will mean a new sight in pit lane - new-style, self-venting dump cans with a dry-break mechanism that is proving challenging for teams to adjust to and not spill any fuel during pit stops. The change of design also means a reduction of about a half-gallon of fuel capacity, which will mean decreased mileage.

"Between the fuel burn being greater with E15 and less capacity in the fuel system, you're going to see shorter stints during the races," said Andy Graves, Toyota Racing Development's vice president of chassis engineering and Cup Series program manager. "And because of that, that changes strategy a little bit and that's a bigger impact, in my eyes - and along with the handling of the fuel - than what the engine shops have to do." He added, "At Sonoma, for example, you could always calculate that as a two-stop race, but now I'm sure it will be three."




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