CONCORD, N.C. - Drivers who hoped to learn as much as they could about NASCAR’s new lower-horsepower, higher-drag competition package for Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race were still guessing on Friday afternoon, after rain washed out all but a few minutes of practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
As a result, drivers and crew chiefs have no certain idea what racing with the radically different package will look like when the elite of the Cup series compete for the $1 million top prize on the 1.5-mile intermediate speedway.
With restrictor plates on the engines and super-sized spoilers on the rear of the Cup cars, Kurt Busch expects to see pack racing a la Talladega.
“I’m anticipating it,” said Busch, who ran a total of four laps in Friday’s practice, which was interrupted by one deluge and halted by a second. “I don’t know how active it will be with the draft, but the way we approached our car on the 41 was in the area that was slightly different than one of the other cars at Stewart-Haas, and another car went their route.
“We’re trying to gather data as fast as we can and then be able to still zero in on what we believe will be the trend. I’m anticipating pack drafting. Here we are at a 1.5-mile race track with a restrictor plate, trying to create a drafting style package, because data shows that Talladega and Daytona are the two most appreciated races because of lead changes, position swaps and action on track.”
Busch was second fastest at 169.502 mph in the abbreviated practice session. Teammate Kevin Harvick, winner of the last two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points races, posted the fastest lap at 170.406 mph. Ford drivers claimed five of the top six positions on the speed chart, the one exception being Denny Hamlin, whose No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota clocked in as third fastest (169.428 mph).
Twelve races into the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, and Kyle Busch has already won 25 percent of the points events in NASCAR’s premier series.
Compared with the success Harvick has enjoyed, however, three victories aren’t quite good enough. Harvick claimed trophies in five of the first dozen races, including the last two, and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford shows no signs of slacking off.
As a consequence, Busch is looking for still more speed in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
“We’ve got to catch up a little bit on speed overall, I’d say,” Busch acknowledged on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, after running the better part of one lap in opening All-Star Race practice. “I think our Toyotas are close, but it seems the Blue Ovals (Fords) have got a little bit of an advantage this year. You kind of see it weekly. You look at the rundown on the pylon, and it’s lots of Fords lined up in the top-12 spots.
“So it’s pretty obvious based just off of last year and looking at the pylon and kind of seeing a little bit more spread there between Chevys, Fords and Toyotas. All in all, we’ve just got to go to work and figure out what we got to do in order to get better. I think some of the aero changes that have kind of come down this year have benefited them a little bit more so than us, and we’re trying to work through some of those things as we go right here throughout the season.”
JEFF GORDON TRYING NOT TO THINK ABOUT POSSIBLE NASCAR HALL OF FAME NOD
If there’s one name on the ballot considered a shoo-in for the next NASCAR Hall of Fame class, it belongs to four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who occupies the third rung on the all-time victory list with 93.
Gordon is taking nothing for granted with respect to the upcoming vote on Wednesday. In fact, he’s trying to keep the possibility of Hall of Fame election in the back of his mind.
“On the one hand, I’m excited,” Gordon said during a Friday press conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway to unveil the throwback rainbow paint scheme on the car William Byron will drive later this season at Darlington. “On the other hand, I’m too young to be in a Hall of Fame or have a throwback paint scheme.
“I’m really just kind of waiting till next week and trying not to think too much about it. I’ve gone to the Hall of Fame for the inductions many times and seen some great speeches and legends of our sport. So whenever that day comes, it’s a huge honor.”
—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.