|Earnhardt Jr. was 5th fastest in early Thursday test session (Getty)|
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series drivers took part in an additional day of testing the new Gen-6 car Thursday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to make up for the lost date originally scheduled for last January due to the Goodyear tire compound not being ready. The testing was scheduled to give all the teams some additional notes on the type of track -- 1.5-mile high banked ovals -- that is the most prevalent on the tour.
Two-time Las Vegas winner Matt Kenseth was the fastest in the first of two sessions with a top speed of 187.396 mph. Greg Biffle topped the final three-hour session with the days top speed at 189.427 mph.
However, the star of the day might have been Kevin Harvick using a chassis from last season that raced to a 12th-place finish at Chicagoland, who had the fastest 10-consecutive lap average in both sessions. Harvick, with odds set at 18-to-1, also had the second fastest single lap behind Kenseth in the first session.
Harvick, who made his Sprint Cup racing debut at Las Vegas and married his wife Delana in the city, had a career best runner-up finish at Las Vegas in 2010 and has an averaged a 13th-place finish in 12 career starts.
The best thing to like about Harvick this week is not only the chunky odds offered, but the fact that he’s faster than most on long runs. However, only six drivers attempted at least 10-consecutive laps in the first session and only 13 tried that many in the afternoon session.
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|Bowyer says Vegas feels fast (Getty)|
How has today’s (Thursday) test been, and how has the start to the season been? “It’s good. The car is good. Everything is very, very good. Our 5-hour ENERGY Toyota — it’s been fun. It’s always nerve wracking over the off-season when you have a good year like we had last year to — in hopes that you get the year started off halfway decent. It hasn’t been great, but it’s certainly been good. Test was uneventful today — which is a good thing. Looking forward to the rest of the week.”
What will the speeds be like in qualifying and is a new track record possible? “I’m thinking somewhere in the 300s — probably not. I don’t know. We were talking about that — and man they seem fast. The car really, really rolls through the center of the corner just extremely fast from what you think. The hardest thing is we’ve been to Daytona, and then we’ve been to Phoenix, and then you come here and it’s so much faster. You want to, initially your thought is, ‘Holy cow, these things are fast.’ And, then you come in here and they’re not record speeds yet. But, I would say I’d bet you — I was looking at the board there and they’re getting faster and faster. It’s pretty cool outside. It keeps getting cooler and cooler. Who knows, if it doesn’t rain tomorrow, I think with the cloud cover and stuff you might see a new track record.”
How much did you learn today? “I learned a lot today and I learned to answer your first question about my test. It was very well. You learn bits and pieces, but these tests anymore. It seems like back in the day when I first started, you would come to a test and like — your input was really what they were looking for. And it still is, but it’s changed so much. The engineers, they’re looking at their computers and all their data. You come to these tests. You collect as much as you can. You let them guys go to work. They’ll go back to their rooms tonight and scramble on that computer all night long and lo and behold, you’ll come back with a better set-up and be even happier tomorrow. It’s just amazing how far the engineering side of the sport has come. Truthfully, it’s just uneventful. There were good fans in the Fan Zone and stuff like that. It was good to see that on a test day. Just looking forward to the race. This is always a great race. It’s fun — it’s not every day in our schedules that we can actually take some time in between races, have a road trip and enjoy some of the surroundings. It’s been fun this week to drive over and see some of the country that we don’t normally get to see. Other than that — it’s all good.”
Does seeing what happened to Denny Hamlin impact what you say? “You know, I’m going to shoot you straight. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. You guys included. We’ve got to — this is an important time for us. We’ve got a great thing going with this Gen-6 car. Our manufacturers have spent millions of dollars on this race car and we’re all proud of it — NASCAR included. Anything is going to take time. Anytime you make something — completely start over from scratch — and do things to make your program better, your sport, or whatever you want to call it, it’s going to take time. It’s a work in progress. You’re not just going to start the very first race out with something new. No different than I did with a new race team. We didn’t go to Daytona last year and win the Daytona 500. Throughout the year, just kept getting better and better and improving on our program and by the end of the year we almost had a shot at winning the championship. The best days for this car are yet to come. And, it’s always going to be that way, it doesn’t matter what you do.”
How indicative will this test be for competing at 1.5-mile tracks? “You know, just the first few races — this West Coast swing, yes it’s important. It’s so important to get that momentum and the points base established. We’ve already seen teams struggle the very first two races and get themselves behind. If you look, these points are hard to accumulate and you have two bad races in a row — that’s a month of really solid, really good runs to get yourself catapulted back up to where you need to be. Not to mention — just the momentum, the physiological part of it. This is a mental game and if you get yourself beat up early, sometimes you don’t ever get out of it as a group. The neat thing about our sport — they’ve done a really good job the first four or five races of being completely different. We’ve got a restrictor plate track, a short track, intermediate track, go to an even shorter track when we get to Bristol. When we get home from Fontana, that’s when you really got an idea of where you compare to your competition and the areas you need to work on.”
Does Las Vegas feel faster than Daytona? “Yes. Absolutely. You feel ‘G’s’ here. I’ve never really said that. Today I was like, ‘I think I can feel side G’s in the corner.’ You’re rolling. You’re just praying that them little black things that are holding you to the track don’t fail you now because it’s going to hurt real, real bad. That’s when it really amazes me how good those Goodyear tires are. I’m telling you, that’s a beating right there. You’re asking a tremendous amount out of them in the center of (turns) one and two at a track like this. Somehow and some way they hold up.”
- Toyota Racing Press Release