Thursday, February 26, 2015

Atlanta Testing Notes from Thursday

Jeff Gordon looked good in Thursday testing at Atlanta
Since the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season ended in November the main topic of concern for those who make odds and bet on each NASCAR race in Las Vegas was how the five dozen changes to the rules package would affect cars on 1.5-mile tracks. There was no preseason testing and Daytona speedweeks didn’t reveal anything, so Thursday’s two test sessions at Atlanta Motor Speedway was the first look at cars with 125 less horsepower than 2014 and a rear spoiler that is 2 inches shorter.

When looking over the speeds of both session, it doesn’t look as though much has changed from what we saw last in 2014 in regards to speed and who has the most of. In fact, Jamie McMurray’s fast lap at 191.549 mph was faster than Kevin Harvick’s 190 mph pole winning speed from Atlanta last fall.

The temperatures were much cooler today than what Harvick ran in August, but the dropoff in speeds isn’t nearly as dramatic as initially anticipated. McMurray’s speed in the early stages of the first 85-minute session held on to be the fastest on the day and his teammate Kyle Larson was right behind him at 190.195 mph as the second fastest which gives an upgrade to the rating of both Chip Ganassi Racing cars. Both were good on 1.5s last season, but they were really good Thursday.

In the second session, Jeff Gordon topped the charts at 188.424 mph (also had best 10-consecutive lap average) showing once again that when something changes with NASCAR requirements on the set-up of car that Hendrick Motorsports will be ahead of the curve. The four Hendrick cars all posted times within the top-11 during the final 115-minute session.

A few quick testing observations:

* Kevin Harvick is going to be fast again just like he was last season when he dominated every practice session on 1.5-mile tracks. He was third fastest in both sessions. Might he be in store for his first Atlanta win since 2001?

* Chevrolet cars produced nine of the fastest 12 laps in the first session and the top-six speeds in the late session. They combined to win six of the 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks in 2014.

* Ford looks to be behind a bit when the new rules package should have benefited many of their cars in theory just because everyone was kind of starting from scratch. The fastest Ford in the first session was 17th (Joey Logano) and in the second session Greg Biffle came in 12th.

* Penske Racing worried? They won five of the 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks last season and practiced extremely well all year, but both Logano and Brad Keselowski were very ordinary Thursday. It’s just a test and who knows what they were trying out on the day, but no one wants to be slow in any situation. We’ll follow this closely over the weekend when practices begin because both cars were considered among the favorites to win on Sunday.

* Toyota showed some competitive speeds which is already an improvement from their 1.5-mile package ran last year. After winning seven of 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks in 2013, they didn’t win any in 2014. Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards all looked strong for Joe Gibbs Racing. Clint Bowyer also looked much better as well with the fourth fastest lap (189.720 mph) in the second session.

* Richard Childress Racing had a good test with Ryan Newman posting the second fastest lap (188.418 mph) in the second session. This is great news for the team considering they didn’t win a race in 2014.

Everyone else fell right about where we might expect. This is just a test, so let’s not make too much out of it, but it at least gives us a base for handicapping and setting odds because prior to Thursday there was a lot of uncertainty.

During Friday’s qualifying and Saturday’s practices things could be much different as most teams will likely use a completely different car or at least a different engine than what was tested. But now the teams have some first hand notes to apply and not only for the weekend, but for the next few months of races on 1.5-mile tracks. The formula to winning a season championship is by being good on the type of track that there are the most of and there are 11 races on the cookie-cutters during the season.

Thursday Test Session No. 1

Thursday Test Session No. 2

No comments: