NASCAR Drivers Expect Side-by-Side Racing
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers tested for the May 20 Quaker Steak & Lube 200 presented by Click It or Ticket while NASCAR Busch Series drivers searched for the proper chassis set-ups for the inaugural nighttime running of the CARQUEST Auto Parts 300 on Saturday, May 28. Information gathered by NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers during their two-day testing session will be used during the May 20 NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and the May 29 Coca-Cola 600.
Instead of repaving the 1.5-mile track, H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, decided to smooth the racing surface.
The track grinding process began in late February with engineers using a three-dimensional laser to map the track. Engineers then attached a Global Positioning System receiver to a street vehicle Wheeler drove numerous laps around the track. Driving the same lines used by NASCAR competitors, the GPS utilized a satellite to produce a digital map of Wheeler's exact location as he circled the track.
The X and Y coordinates from the GPS mapping were then dropped on top of the three-dimensional laser scan. This showed the racing grooves and the areas in which engineers needed to focus the grinding.
The work was done with a goal of producing more side-by-side racing. Many of the drivers participating in the recent testing sessions believe that goal has been accomplished and they expect fans will witness some of the best racing in the track's 46-year history. Comments from several drivers about the levigated racing surface and what to expect during May race weeks follow:
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Elliott Sadler, No. 38 M&Ms Ford: "I give Humpy Wheeler and everyone here an A+ on the corners. They are very smooth and there's a lot of grip. I've never been to a race track before where you could just run up high. I'm used to running around the bottom all the time. They've done a great job at creating side-by-side racing here and it's going to make the All-Star race and the Coke 600 very exciting for the fans. It still has a lot of bumps on the back, but they did a great job with the corners. You are going to see racing like at Atlanta where they go from the bottom to the top with three-wide racing."
Greg Biffle, No. 16 National Guard/Subway Ford: "I was so disappointed when they ground it. I was like 'man that was a great race track, they shouldn't have messed with it.' The bumps gave it character. But now that I've made 20 laps, I'm just shocked. Never in my life have I seen grinding a race track do what it did here. It's just so fast. I'm driving in the second groove, or even the third groove. I'm not even running on the bottom, so that tells you how fast it is and that there will be side-by-side racing. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but this is going to be one of the best shows out of all 36 races."
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet: "This is definitely the smoothest I've ever seen this place. They've certainly found something that works very well. The corners are just fantastic. It's changed things for sure. It's not like a totally different race track, but you can run some different lines. You can really arc the corners a lot more and you can carry a lot more speed into and through the corners. A lot of guys were running the middle to higher lines which is a positive thing, a sign of good things to come."
Kyle Busch, No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet: "What they did to the track definitely worked and we are going to see exactly what they were looking for-side-by-side racing and faster speeds. It still has the same old characteristics. It's still a little bumpy in some areas, but it's definitely a fun place to race and it's going to be a great show."
Brian Vickers, No. 25 GMAC/ditech.com Chevrolet: "The changes have definitely given the track more grip. It's still pretty rough, but that's not always a bad thing. I like it and I think it's going to be fast. I'm not yet sure if we should run up by the wall or down along the yellow line."
Bill Elliott, No. 91 Stanley Tools Dodge: "It's quite a bit smoother and has a lot of grip. I'm in better shape because I haven't missed anything by not running here last year. Now everyone has a clean slate with the changes to the race track. It has always been hard to run a higher groove here, but now you can run a high line and still have a good lap time."
NASCAR Busch Series
Ryan Newman, No. 39 Penske Racing Dodge: "I was a really big fan of the bumps and the way that it was. But the way that it's ground and with the combination of the Goodyear Tires, I think it's going to create some really good racing. I don't know how it's going to carry over into my Cup car. I'm really just gaining information for myself, as far as what's fast and what's not. I've run pretty much all over and I'm still pretty quick."
Reed Sorenson, No. 41 Discount Tire Dodge: "I've only had a chance to run ARCA and ASA cars here, so I don't have anything to compare it to. One and two are pretty much the same. I was watching the cup cars out here and they are running around the middle. I remember when I ran an ARCA car here it was tough to pass in turn three. But now I feel like you can just drive around someone."
Shane Hmiel, No. 32 WIN Fuel Chevrolet: "The second groove in turns one and two is faster than the bottom groove. It's going to be an exciting race, and that's good because the last couple races here have been pretty boring."
Carl Edwards, No. 60 Charter Communications Ford: "I feel like I can run just about anywhere on the race track at just about the same speed. I haven't figured out where the fastest spot is yet. It's different, but I think it's going to be just fine for us because I really don't have that much experience on the old track."
Denny Hamlin, No. 20 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet: "This is my first time here, so it's all new to me. But I love it. We are running as much as three cars wide in turns one and two and just about as wide in turns three and four. We are running different grooves and running the same times. I think it's going to make for a lot of side-by-side racing."
Joe Nemechek, No. 87 Cellular One Chevrolet: "It's a whole different track now compared to what it used to be. You can't even compare what it was, just totally different. The place is a lot faster than it was, has much more grip and you can go around the corners faster." NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
Jimmy Spencer, No. 2 Team ASE Dodge: "They did a good job grinding the track. I like it now that there are two distinct grooves that will be there all night long. Before, people would stay on the bottom. Now I think you can race high or low. It's going to be a lot better racing in one and two and now that they have taken the bumps out of three and four there will be better racing through there also."
Jack Sprague, No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet: "It's got huge grip, wide open like Texas, Atlanta and California. The side-by-side deal remains to be seen. If the bottom stays as grippy as it is right now, it will be faster than the second lane. But I think there's a lot of grip up top too."
David Starr, No. 75 Spears Manufacturing Chevrolet: "Growing up and watching racing on TV, you always heard about the 'Humpy Bumps' and you don't realize how big the 'Humpy Bumps' are until you come and race here. Last year, I learned to get through the 'Humpy Bumps' and we won the pole. Now, we come back to test and the 'Humpy Bumps' are gone! The amount of grip the track has is going to make for one heck of a race."
Tickets for all May events at Charlotte Motor Speedway, including the May 21 NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and the May 29 Coca-Cola 600, are still available and can be obtained by calling 1-800-455-FANS or online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.