Thursday, July 5, 2012

Daytona Practice Notes: Not Much Information Gained in Either Session

2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray fast in final practice  (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

Only 24 drivers participated in Thursday’s second and final practice session at Daytona International Speedway, the last chance for the 44 entered drivers to fine tune their cars before Friday’s Coke Zero 400 qualifying.

Apparently, the 20 drivers that opted not to risk their primary car to possible damage got all the answers they needed in the first session. While drivers like Kevin Harvick generally don’t practice in the final session of restrictor-plate races, it was quite unusual to see so many drivers not take any chances.

Drivers from major teams like Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer chose to sit out the final session. Denny Hamlin also sat out, but it was due to his sore back which will also keep him out of Friday’s Nationwide race.

Of the drivers that did participate, two-time Daytona winner Jamie McMurray led the way with the fastest lap at 197.837 mph, over 4 mph slower than the top speed from the earlier session. In both cases, the top speeds were gained in the draft using race set-ups.

Another two-time Daytona winner, Michael Waltrip, came in with the second fastest lap (197.733) driving the No. 55 for the second week in a row.

Kurt Busch was third fastest (197.459) in his un-sponsored James Finch Chevy and has perhaps two whacks at doing the impossible -- winning, remaining in 2012. Because the plate races at Daytona and Talladega are so wide open with at least 36 drivers having a legitimate shot, Busch’s plate racing skills give his under-funded team perhaps the best chance they have at winning all season.

Travis Kvapil is in the same situation as Busch, except he has a sponsor. Kvapil had the fourth fastest time while running 16 laps.

Aric Almirola was fastest in the first session and came right back with the fifth fastest lap in the final 85-minute session. Almirola also ran the most laps (29) by an overwhelming margin. Only three drivers ran 20 laps or more with Dale Earnhardt Jr. turning 23 circuits and capturing the 9th fastest time.

11 drivers ran 10-consecutive laps or more led by Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards.

Wish there was more to report on, but this seems to be the case with every plate race the last two seasons. Practice doesn’t provide a lot of usable information that translates into steering us in a direction to who might win.

We know the radiators are small, the cars will overheat quickly if drafting too close and any driver has a chance to win.

Before the race, Fords were expected to be good, and nothing happened to change that.

I don't feel any smarter because of what I saw in practice. And with plate races, it's real easy to feel dumb before, during and after the race when picking a few drivers to do well.

I'm still baffled on who might win, but do like the chances of any Roush Ford and Earnhardt Jr.

The one exception that peaked my curiosity during practice was Jamie McMurray. He was the only driver between the two sessions that raised an eye brow just because of his past success in plate races that saw him win on three occasions contrasted with his overall performance this season.

Top-5 Daytona Practice 2 Speeds:
1) Jamie McMurray 197.837
2) Michael Waltrip 197.733
3) Kurt Busch 197.459
4) Travis Kvapil 197.425
5) Aric Almirola 197.416

Daytona Practice 2 (Final) Speeds

Almirola Fastest in First Practice Session

By Micah Roberts

Aric Almirola was the fastest in Thursday’s first practice session at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400. Almirola’s fast lap of 201.961 mph topped 44 drivers and also highlighted six drivers that topped 200 mph during the session.

Aric Almirola's Ford fastest in Thursday's first practice (Getty) 
Right behind Almriola was his Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Marcos Ambrose at 201.374 mph showing once again that the Fords might have a little something better than the other manufacturers at Daytona.

A Ford has won the last three races at Daytona and placed three of the top-five fastest times in the early practice with Greg Biffle having the fifth fastest lap.

The top Toyota performer was Joey Logano with the third fastest lap followed by Chevrolet’s top time captured by 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman. A.J. Allmendinger represented Dodge with the seventh fastest lap.

Tony Stewart ran the most laps (49) during the 80-minute session while gaining the 26th fastest speed.

24 cars ran at least 10-consecutive laps with Jamie McMurray having the fastest average. However, those average speeds with plates on are not as great an indicator to who might be fast on race day as they might be for most other tracks.

Pre-race favorite, and this years Daytona 500 winner, Matt Kenseth came in with the 14th fastest lap and two-time Daytona winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 24th fastest, just ahead of teammate Jimmie Johnson.

The other half of the Hendrick Motorsports group finished with top laps inside the top-10 led by six-time Daytona winner Jeff Gordon, who was sixth-fastest. Kasey Kahne was 10th fastest as he still searches for his first restrictor-plate win.

The main topic again throughout the garages was trying to keep the engines as cool as possible while maximizing speed. With a smaller radiator used for the plate races, it's a tough compromise.

Denny Hamlin did not participate in practice due to a sore back, although Kyle Busch did run three laps in the car just to give the crew something to work with. Hamlin withdrew from Friday night’s Nationwide race, but is expected to participate in Saturday’s Cup race.

Thursday’s final practice will start at 6:35 pm (ET) giving the teams their last chance to tinker with the car before Friday’s 4:10 pm qualifying.

Top-5 Daytona Practice 1 Speeds:
1) Aric Almirola 201.961 mph
2) Marcos Ambrose 201.374
3) Joey Logano 201.122
4) Ryan Newman 201.068
5) Greg Biffle 200.933

Daytona Practice 1 Speeds Practice 1 & 2 Chart

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