DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Martin Truex Jr. said he was asking himself how fast he could get around Darlington long before the Sprint Cup driver arrived at the legendary 1.366-mile track Feb. 5 for the Goodyear tire test.
The answer? Pretty doggone fast.
Truex Jr. (Michael Waltrip Racing), Carl Edwards (Roush Fenway Racing), Paul Menard (Richard Childress Racing), Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Juan Pablo Montoya (Earnhardt Ganassi Racing) participated in a day-long Goodyear tire test as the tire supplier attempted to get a bead on the right compound and construction for NASCAR's new Generation-6 car, which debuts this year.
"It's definitely faster than what we ran last year," Truex Jr. said during a lunch break. "I actually ran faster this morning in race trim than I qualified here last year when we qualified like sixth. So the cars are fast, and driving great.
"Today is all about getting the tire right, helping Goodyear get the right tire back here so we can put on a great race."
Speeds have been higher than in the past at nearly every test thus far, and Truex Jr. says much of that is due to the superior handling of the new car.
"They're a little bit lighter, there's more left side weight, more downforce, and that allows you to keep the car lower until you get to the center of the corner," he said. "Another thing is the track (today) really doesn't have any rubber in it yet. As we ran today ? just the few hours of running with five cars, the groove was moving up. It's going to be the typical Darlington line when we come back. We'll just be doing it a little quicker."
Kasey Kahne holds the Darlington track qualifying record of 181.254 mph (27.131 seconds), set in 2011. That mark is one of several likely to fall once the 2013 season gets under way, according to Edwards.
"We just ran what, 27.50s?" asked Edwards. "I think we'll be a lot faster than that track record. I think you'll see that a lot as long as this aero package is the way it is. The cars are stuck so well, and the tires are so good, everybody's engines get better, the cars are lighter. ?
"They're fast in the corner; you can really lay the throttle to them in the middle of the corner."
Unlike race weekends, testing allows teams to use telemetry to take detailed measurements inside the cars. That can be both good and bad for a driver, according to Edwards.
"At the test you have ? a digital speedometer and it's right there on the dash," he said. "We're curious guys, we're competitive, so each time you get down in the corner you want to watch and see how fast you're going. But the fastest point is the point on the track that needs the most attention and your attention's not supposed to be on that monitor.
"I've seen 193 or something but I can't look at it any longer before I have to look in the corner."
Brett Bodine, NASCAR's director of competition for research and development, said the factors mentioned by the drivers -- additional downforce, less left-side weight and more mechanical grip -- combine to make the car easier to drive. And that, he said, should provide better competition when the field is on the track under race conditions.
"When the car drivers better, the drivers are more comfortable in (race) traffic," he said. "And certainly that was our goal. We feel like we've definitely raised the bar, moved the needle in a positive direction in respect to racing in traffic."
There were no incidents during the morning session, although Edwards said his car made slight contact with the wall.
"It's neat to wake up in the morning and go run down into these corners at 190-something miles an hour," Edwards said. "It's a big way to start your day."
Drivers will return to Darlington for The Bojangles' Southern 500, scheduled for May 11.
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