By Lee Montgomery firstname.lastname@example.org
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The consensus from drivers after the first large-pack drafting session of the new NASCAR Nationwide Series car at Daytona International Speedway was that the cars are loose – but getting much better.
As many as 18 cars drafted together Wednesday afternoon, and while drivers were a little hesitant at first, they said they got more comfortable.
"Yes, they’re still a little bit of a handful, but come on, we’ve got all of 10 hours of testing on these things," Rusty Wallace Racing’s Brendan Gaughan said. "Give the engineers time, give the smart people on these race teams time, and they’ll make them all better."
Many drivers were fairly vocal Tuesday about how loose the cars were in smaller draft packs, but Nationwide Series Director Joe Balash preached patience. Apparently, many teams improved on their cars from the first day to the next.
"We’ve made ours a ton better today," Gaughan said. "TRD’s going to go back and crunch numbers, our engineers are going to go back and crunch numbers, the Hendrick bunch will go back and crunch their numbers, Gibbs bunch – and we’ll all come back to that test on Tuesday before the weekend here, and we’ll be better.
"The guys that didn’t come are the ones that are really going to have to fight to get them up0 to speed. They’re going to have to get information from somebody."
Roush Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said his crew got his car driving better Wednesday – and it should be even better when teams return for the Subway Jalapeno 250 in July.
"Yesterday, it was a handful," Stenhouse Jr. said. "Our Mustang was actually pretty good today in drafting. We were a little bit free on entry and tight off. But the last run there, I felt like we were pretty solid, driving-wise. I feel like we may have taken a little speed out of it, but this race come July will be all about handling. We gained on it, and we’ll come back down here after working in the shop on it … I think we’ll have something that’s pretty good."
Penske Racing’s Justin Allgaier said the cars seemed to handle better running two-wide.
"Honestly, I think they’re better side-by-side," Allgaier said. "The aero seems to tighten the cars up when you get side-by-side and everybody gets more comfortable when you’re two-n or three-wide. It’s backwards from what it normally is, but I’m not going to complain. The biggest problem here is it’s hard to race for the whole race with a big group."
Still, Allgaier was another driver who said his team got his car handling better since Tuesday.
"No question it was way better than yesterday," Allgaier said. "The funny part is (NASCAR) didn’t do anything to the cars. We all got a night to focus in on what we could do to be better.
"It’s still hairy, don’t get me wrong. It’s still going to be an interesting race. It’s no different than the Cup car. The difference is, the Cup car started out tight, and they made them loose. Whereas we started out loose, and we’re making them tighter.
"I feel that’s encouraging for what the future holds for this car. There were good lap times. We’re not too fast, but we’re just fast enough to be competitive and really race each other hard."
Balash said NASCAR was pleased with the two-day test and that most of the teams here have a solid direction to go in.
"We had most of the cars that were here go out and take turns leading the pack, running the inside lane and outside lane, trying to work their way up through the field," Balash said. "I think we’ve got a lot of adjustments left in the car. We had differing comments from the drivers as I’ve walked through the garage and talked to them. To some drivers, the cars are loose and to some they were tight during the drafting session. I think we’re headed in the right direction with everything that we’ve got going on in the test session. We’ll be ready when we get back down here in July."
Drivers were a bit skittish in the first few laps of Wednesday’s draft, not knowing how the cars would react.
"One, everybody was giving each other a lot of room and respect," Gaughan said. "We were all doing, ‘You want to do this? No, you want to do this?’ The drivers were all a little nervous about it. But nobody held tight to each other, as far as left to right. We’re learning how to bump-draft them, and some guys were getting a little more edgy on it."
Allgaier, for one, bump-drafted Stenhouse’s car fairly hard one time, though there were hardly any marks on Stenhouse’s Ford.
"It didn’t take too long before they started getting after it," Stenhouse Jr. said. "It was cool. The cars sucked up really well. It seemed like everybody’s would suck up. But definitely, you give yourself a lot of room here. You get behind some cars, and they need 20 feet just to get their car around the track."
And that could make for a wild race in July.
"I think it’s going to be fun," Stenhouse Jr. said. "It’s going to be crazy, for sure. It’s a deal where everybody’s car is handling close to the same, and none of them are perfect. What I like about it is you get to play with the throttle. It’s not a normal Nationwide race here where you can just hold it on the floor for a couple laps and be good with it. You’re going to have to play with the throttle. It’s going to be a good race."