DARLINGTON, S.C. — Carl Edwards and several other Sprint Cup stars gave the new, faster Gen-6 race car a thumbs-up after a Goodyear tire test Tuesday at Darlington Raceway.
Edwards said the digital speedometer on his Ford Fusion hit 193 mph right before entering turn three, a typically unheard of speed at the ultra-tricky track.
“Each time down, you want to watch and see what you’re doing,” he said. “But the fastest point is the point where the track needs your attention and your eyes are not supposed to be on that monitor. I saw 193 or something, but I can’t look at it any longer before I have to look into the corner.”
Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Juan Pablo Montoya were also at Darlington for the daylong session. NASCAR teams have previously tested the car at Daytona International Speedway and Charlotte Motorspeedway.
Edwards found the new machine to be faster and racers should expect better handling and tighter racing when the circuit returns to NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway for the Southern 500 on May 11.
A few laps around the track “Too Tough To Tame” in the new car and Truex was confident someone would shatter Darlington’s record qualifying speed of 181.254 mph set by Kasey Kahne at the 2011 race.
“We were faster in race trim than we qualified last year and I think we qualified sixth or something,” Truex said.
Then again, Darlington may not be the place for higher speeds. The track has a reputation as one of the most fearsome layouts in NASCAR. Its misshapen corners — think of an egg’s oval shape — and narrow straightaways make it treacherous with every pass.
The past two races here ended in melees with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch tangling after the cooldown lap in 2011 and crews for Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman went at it at the end of the 2012 event.
Edwards said the newly designed car should only add to the excitement here and improve the product for fans. The car has shown more ability to grip the surface, meaning drivers can stick it into places not generally accessible expect to the most fearless pilots at Darlington.
“We can always have more exciting racing. The more those cars are sliding sideways and drivers are manhandling around the racetrack, the better off we are,” Edwards said. “Hopefully, this car gets us to that place.”
The Gen-6 car has been faster at each place it’s been tested. What remains to be seen is how it’ll perform with a full field ripping through the corners and jostling for the top.
“This thing’s quite a bit different than what we’re used to,” Truex said. “There’s going to a lot of things to learn for the teams and for the drivers so we’re glad to get out there and get some laps.”
Goodyear expects to use the information from this test to formulate the type of tire they’ll bring back here in May. If history is any guide, the tire company should bring plenty of rubber. Darlington is known for its abrasive, tire-chewing surface that has shown itself more and more since a 2008 repavement.
“It’s a two-lane highway with a speed limit of 190 mph,” joked Brett Bodine, the former racer who works as NASCAR’s competition director for research and development.
Edwards was happy for the lap time and has been pleased with the Gen-6 car’s performance so far. He expects a lot of thrills when the season kicks off with the Daytona 500 later this month.
“It seems like NASCAR is putting as much effort as humanly possible in making the cars perform as we all want them to on the race track,” Edwards said.
He is planning for additional chances when engineers from the teams and NASCAR see what the car does in competition. In the end, Edwards is confident any adjustments will improve things on the track, even one as difficult as Darlington.
“For me, this test is one I really looked forward to,” he said. “I get to work with a new car, a new team, new tires at a track I love. The weather’s nice. This is a great way to spend a Tuesday.”
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