Mears Fastest Again at Busch Testing
Those preparations will focus on how to best set up a chassis for the harder compound tire Goodyear has built for the repaved racing surface at the legendary 1.5-mile superspeedway.
"We're really just trying to understand what this tire wants," said three-time Coca-Cola 600 winner Jimmie Johnson, who will drive the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet in the CARQUEST Auto Parts 300. "This tire is something that we've never had on the car and it requires a different setup and a totally different way of driving.
"The track is different from the old bumpy track," Johnson added. "The transitions are a little different and the pavement's really smooth, so it's not the old, rough, nasty Charlotte. Looking back on both levigation experiences, we didn't feel like we were the favorites going into the races, but somehow left with the trophies. It's not like us to ever say 'we're not going to win.' We believe we have a shot, but we have a little bit of ground to make up."
Seventeen teams were on hand for the third and final day of NASCAR Busch Series testing and Casey Mears ended up on top of the speed chart with a lap at 184.106 mph in the No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge. Mears was also fastest on Tuesday at 187.071 mph, the best overall lap of the three days.
Rookie Aric Almirola bounced back from a crash to post the second fastest lap of the day at 183.306 mph in the No. 19 Husqvarna Chevrolet.
"I've been to Texas and Atlanta, which are pretty similar, and Charlotte is definitely a beast of its own, to say the least," said the 22-year-old Almirola. "The wall comes up on you in an awful hurry coming off of four-you wouldn't think it, the way the track's designed, but it really does."
It's a bit ironic that the Joe Gibbs Racing driver spoke those words just minutes before losing control in Turn 4 and hitting the wall. Almirola returned to the track after repairs to the right-rear corner of the car.
Kurt Busch was third fastest at 183.306 mph in the No. 39 Penske Truck Rental Dodge.
"This place is fun, it's always been unique and it hasn't lost any of that," Busch said. "But the tire they've brought is so hard that it's hard to get a good handle on it.
"The new surface has enabled us to run very, very soft springs. That gets the car slammed to the race track and provides for good speeds," he continued. "Before, the levigation wasn't the problem. I believe it was just the tire compound. The levigation was fine, just too soft of a tire. Now, the new asphalt's great, just too hard of a tire."
Johnson was fourth fastest at 183.299 mph while Kasey Kahne completed the top-five at 182.488.
Like the two previous days, the handling differences between the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series cars along with the hard tires were the primary topics of garage-area conversation.
"The Busch cars are so much more stable than the Cup cars," said Kevin Harvick, who drove his own No. 33 Chevrolet after piloting Richard Childress Racing's No. 21 Coast Guard machine on Monday. "The Busch car is like 11 or 12 miles per hour faster through the corner than the Cup car. They have more downforce, so they are faster and a lot more comfortable to drive.
"They did a good job repaving the race track. With this tire, I think the groove's going to move around a little bit because the cars are going to get tight," Harvick added. "Charlotte is all about Turn 3, that big arc getting into three. It has the same characteristics coming up off the corner, and Turns 1 and 2 are still the same. In a of couple years, it'll be back to the same old Charlotte."
In addition to Almirloa's accident, there were two other crashes during the seven-hour testing session. Tracy Hines spun and backed the No. 14 Dodge into the wall and Jerry Robertson smacked the SAFER barrier in the No. 78 Chevrolet. Neither driver was injured.
Next up at Charlotte Motor Speedway is NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series open practice on Thursday, May 18, as teams prepare for the Quaker Steak & Lube 200 on Friday night, May 19. Trucks will be on the track from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break scheduled for 2:30. Charlotte Motor Speedway's frontstretch grandstand will be open free of charge and spectators should enter through Gate 5A at the base of Smith Tower.
Tickets for all May events, including the CARQUEST Auto Parts 300 on Saturday night, May 27, can be purchased online or by calling 1-800-455-FANS.
Showing driver and fastest lap: 1. Casey Mears, 184.106; 2. Aric Almirola, 183.343; 3. Kurt Busch, 183.306; 4. Jimmie Johnson, 183.299; 5. Kasey Kahne, 182.488; 6. Kevin Harvick, 181.837; 7. Jason Leffler, 181.696; 8. Tracy Hines, 181.543; 9. Joel Kauffman, 181.470; 10. David Gilliland, 181.452; 11. Regan Smith, 181.263; 12. Burney Lamar, 180.638; 13. Matt McCall, 180.445; 14. Ashton Lewis Jr., 180.385; 15. Kevin Conway, 178.141; 16. Jerry Robertson, 177.183; 17. Jorge Goeters, 174.137.