On Saturday, Jan. 11 and Sunday, Jan. 12, the NASCAR Nationwide Series got its turn to test the high banks of Daytona International Speedway in preparation for their season-opening DRIVE4COPD 300 on Saturday, Feb. 22. Young, up and coming drivers were the order of the day, as series regulars such as Regan Smith, Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott, James Buescher, Trevor Bayne and Ryan Blaney led the pack of twenty-five cars that turned laps on the 2.5-mile high banks Saturday and Sunday.
Teams adjusted to new cooling systems designed to eliminate tandem drafting, and they searched for new ways to find top speed at the World Center of Racing.
“With this form of racing you're going to have to be more strategic throughout the whole race,” said Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner who’s competing for the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. “I don't think you can wait until five laps to go and hook up to somebody and go barreling to the front.”
Chase Elliott, kicking off his rookie campaign in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports, was fastest in the No. 9 Chevrolet with a lap of 187.993 mph followed by his father Bill in the No. 5 Chevrolet at 187.974.
Dylan Kwasniewski was fastest on Sunday for Turner Scott Motorsports in the No. 31 Chevrolet with a lap of 190.022 mph. The younger Elliott was once again near the top of the speed charts, posting the second fastest lap on Sunday of 189.950 mph.
James Buescher, who captured the 2012 edition of the DRIVE4COPD 300, is entering this year’s race having made a big change in his driving career. At the end of last year’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, Buescher left Turner Scott Motorsports, which is owned by his father-in-law Steve Turner, to join RAB Racing and the No. 99 Toyota Camry in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
“In some ways it was a really difficult decision from the family aspect and everything that we’ve accomplished together at Turner Scott Motorsports – the championships and race wins and poles and kind of building that organization," Buescher stated. “But I want to make it to the Sprint Cup level, and I want to be a Sprint Cup champion one day. I have to make the moves in my career that are best for me, and I feel like coming over to RAB Racing and Toyota and being able to bring Rheem with me as a sponsor was the best situation for me to be in right now,”
Winning the 2012 DRIVE4COPD 300, held the day before the prestigious Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, has had a major impact on the young career of Buescher, who later on that year won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.
“It was definitely really big,” Buescher said. “At that point, I had never won a NASCAR sanctioned event. I was relieved to finally win a race, and the fact that I won one when everybody was crashing, there was a lot of doubters that said it was a fluke, and the fact that we were able to go follow that up with four more wins in the Truck Series that year and a championship I think solidified that win that we had here in the Nationwide Series. It makes this place even more special.”
Drivers maximized their drafting opportunities on both days as they worked in packs at high speeds. They gathered key data they can use during Speedweeks, which will include a yet-to-be-divulged multi-car qualifying format for both the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. It will be announced later this month.
“It was good to see everybody get out there and get right to drafting,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition and racing development. “I'm really pleased with the test. Our conversations that we've had with the drivers have been positive and Wayne (Auton, NASCAR Nationwide Series Managing Director) is getting good feedback from the garage. It looks like a good effort on everybody's part to do all the right things out there. It looked really nice.”
One of the seasoned veterans in the test was David Ragan, a race winner in NASCAR's Sprint Cup and Nationwide series, who will make his return to Nationwide racing with Biagi-DenBeste Racing in the DRIVE4COPD 300 Feb. 22 at Daytona International Speedway. Making his 100th career Nationwide start, Ragan will drive the No. 98 Curb Records Ford at a track where he has visited Victory Lane.
"We are very excited to have David, a three-time superspeedway race winner, in the car for Daytona," said team co-owner Fred Biagi. "This will be a great beginning for our 2014 season. We know David will help us in the evolution of our race program and we look forward to working with him."
In eight seasons in the Nationwide series, Ragan has earned two wins and two poles, and 16 top-five and 46 top-10 finishes. The 28-year-old driver also has two wins in his eight-year Sprint Cup career, including a victory at the Daytona Beach superspeedway.
"This is a pretty solid team with good equipment and a pretty good crew chief in Jon Hanson," Ragan said. "We'll learn a ton this weekend during the test so we can bring a race-winning car back here next month. I'm grateful to Fred Biagi and Bill DenBeste for the opportunity. We're going to have some fun."
Preseason Thunder will conclude on Tuesday with NASCAR Camping World Truck Series testing. Fans can watch the testing at no cost from a section of the Oldfield Grandstands.
Tickets for all of the Speedweeks 2014 events are now available online, at the speedway ticket office, or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter,Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for the latest news all season long. Fans can also follow the latest onDAYTONA Rising, the $400 million frontstretch renovation at the “World Center of Racing” by using#DAYTONARising on Twitter.
Be sure to subscribe to the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner, and keep track of your favorite racers. If you're a motorsports fan, and know of an event, team, or person you'd like to see profiled, please let me know. Also, be sure to follow me on twitter, and read my articles about local getaways,HOAs,elections, and restaurants.