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Tests give NASCAR boost quickly

DAYTONA BEACH — There's a buzz at Daytona International Speedway, and it's more than the cars humming around the track.

A three-day test that ended Saturday brought fans to the storied speedway a month before the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 20. They were treated to autograph sessions, question-and-answer forums and, of course, practice laps, from every driver in attendance.

For new track president Joie Chitwood of Tampa, it was the perfect kickoff for what he hopes is a frantic month of ticket sales leading into NASCAR's biggest race of the season.

"We want testing all the time because it's the best promotional opportunity any track could have," Chitwood, a USF graduate, said Saturday. "Believe me, I'll be asking for it every year."

He shouldn't hold his breath.

NASCAR banned testing after the 2008 season at sanctioned tracks as a cost-cutting measure. The Daytona session was held only because the track was repaved for the first time since 1979 after a pothole marred last year's Daytona 500.

NASCAR had to let tire supplier Goodyear test — drawing 17 drivers in December — then opened the speedway for all teams to test starting Thursday.

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton shook his head no when asked if testing could be reinstated and said this session was held only to prepare for the new surface.

Still, having cars back on the track has reignited fan interest at a time when the sport is fighting to stop a slide in attendance and television ratings.

And drivers have gotten a good sense of what the racing at Daytona will be like next month.

"It's going to be an exciting Daytona 500 for sure," three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon said. "The drafting (is) a lot more like what you have in Talladega but yet with the uniqueness that Daytona still brings to it. I think it's going to be very exciting, a lot of grip, a lot of three-wide racing."

TWO TO TANGO: Drivers have discovered that two-car packs might be the way to go on Daytona's new surface.

A smaller restrictor plate seems to be a key factor. When NASCAR reduced the holes in the plates from 30/32 of an inch to 29/32 for the three-day test, it gave the cars enough stability to draft in pairs.

"With the bigger plate, you couldn't two-car draft, because it was too fast," said Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Penske Dodge. "You'd just spin each other out. Now that we have the smaller plate, the cars are more vulnerable to the two-car draft."

Keselowski said his top speed last week exceeded that of the December tire test. He and teammate Kurt Busch posted the fastest speeds of the week. Hooked up in a two-car draft, Keselowski ran 198.605 mph and Busch, who was pushing, ran at 198.579.

Tests give NASCAR boost quickly 01/22/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 22, 2011 10:47pm]
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